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Posts Tagged ‘Elmhurst Historical Museum’

The morning was bright and clear with dashes of sunshine stroking my life. Decorations were scattered about our rambling abode; angels rested on high, books stacked within reach, and there were even a few batches of cookies stored in decorative tins. A rare December day with no meetings on the calendar, a tank full of gas and a list of wonders that I wanted to see, so, off I went with a purpose in mind.

My first stop was to see an exhibit about one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life,  at the Elmhurst History Museum. Alas and alack, I arrived to discover it would not open for several more hours, so . . . I promptly reversed my plans and headed, first, to the Wilder Park Conservatory. The Conservatory is an oasis of growth and warmth, history and soulful nourishment nestled into an award-winning park in the western suburbs.

Opening the door, a couple I have known were exiting, two charming grandsons toddling out with them. These two youngsters informed me that there were “fishes” and “elves” inside.

Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but, elves here and there and everywhere in the conservatory, along with this poinsettia tree and a cheerful display of the plants all around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In need of a “cuppa” of something warm and a bit of bite to eat, I headed to the north end of town and Brewpoint Coffee and Roastery where I had a tasty blueberry scone and a hot mocha (called Sacagawea).

As luck would have it, on a day filled with good luck, a perfect parking spot awaited me smack dab in the center of town. Like many suburbs around Chicago, parking is at a premium, so I quickly signaled my intent to park, claiming my curbside cradle. My first stop was The Pink Elephant, a well stocked charity shop. I chatted for quite sometime with a woman I did not know as we good-naturedly tried to talk each other into buying something we did not need. Do you ever do that? As a result, this caroler sang her way into my arms and followed me home.

I stopped at a new store, Bread and Butter, where I had purchased a darling pair of earrings a few weeks earlier. It is such a cute shop and the owner, a enterprising young woman, is as delightful as her products. I left with these cute stocking caps meant for bottles that Rudolf absconded with to keep his antlers warm.

My final stop, which was my first on what became a delightful circuitous route, was a tour of the exhibit at the Elmhurst History MuseumIt’s a Wonderful Life. Posters and “stills” from the movie lined the museum’s wall with informative narratives describing scenes, props, biographical information and other tidbits of knowledge about a beloved movie.

Included in this exhibition are photos and information about Elmhurst’s own Christmas traditions and photos of the city around the time depicted in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I did not take many photos, in part to maintain the integrity of the exhibition, and in part to lure you into the museum if you live in the area or are visiting. It is truly worth the visit and is within a short walking distance of not only the conservatory, but, of the renowned Elmhurst Art Museum.

Here are two characters from the movie, the original Bert and Ernie, and another character you might recall, Toots, with her earrings dangling and her infamous red coat.

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DSCN1144When I first heard that Leslie Goddard would be portraying Jackie Kennedy at a fundraising event in February, I eagerly set about gathering a circle of women to share a table. The event was a benefit for the Elmhurst Heritage Foundation, which supports the Elmhurst Historical Museum and the Churchville Schoolhouse, both of which celebrate local history.

I first saw Leslie Goddard last winter when she portrayed one of my favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. I knew she would capture the essence of the former first lady of the United States. She did not disappoint.

It was fun to meet up with those sharing my table, and see so many women I haven’t seen in a long while. Many wore pill box hats, suits, and outfits reflecting the 1960’s and the brief years of the Kennedy administration.

I didn’t wear a hat, or gloves, or a suit, but I did wear several strands of pearls around my neck, pearl earrings and a vintage brooch at my lapel.

The tea was outstanding; savories and sweets filled our plates and satisfied our palates as we sipped tea, chatted, and waited for Jackie to arrive.

When she did, in a red suit, pill box hat, and signature wide-brimmed sunglasses, I felt myself taken back, 50 years, to the days of my youth, watching the black and white television tour of the White House with Mrs. Kennedy, who was bringing its history alive. I remembered how glamorous I though Jackie Kennedy was and how she influenced fashion of the time in her classic manner. I recalled how we all bought mantillas to wear on our heads to church and how I wanted to learn more of our nation’s history and furnishings. Of course, as Ms. Goddard spoke of that fateful day in Texas, I remembered the assassination of JFK, of how sad and frightening those days in November, 1963 were, and of Jackie’s quiet, graceful dignity that helped us all through, in spite of her grief and her trauma.

What a elegant afternoon it was. How fortunate I was to share it with friends and family. How amazing it is to have such talented historians as Ms. Goddard, who bring history alive in such meaningful ways.

I wish you could have been us, dear reader. I really do.

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I love the book group I am in, not only for the variety of books we read, but because it is such a caring and congenial group. There is always something new we learn about each other in between the pages we  discuss, which happened again last Thursday as we finished our discourse and enjoyed some refreshments our evening’s host  Donna had prepared.

Donna is one of our liveliest members. She has been a repeat medalist in speed walking and the long jump in the US National Senior Olympics, earning honors again this past summer.

Donna casually mentioned she didn’t mind missing the opening of an exhibit at the Elmhurst Historical Museum in order to host our group at her house. When pressed, she went on to say that she was invited to the opening of the exhibit on the Cold War and that they had filmed her oral history.

When Donna heard about the upcoming exhibit and that it would include artifacts of the era, she donated some pamphlets and ephemera on Civil Defense preparedness that she had kept from the 1960’s. She was subsequently invited to the museum to record her story.

With a little time to kill on Wednesday after my stroll in the park, I drove over to the Elmhurst Historical Museum to see the exhibit. It is a small museum in a historic house, much like town museums everywhere. It is where the world comes to meet the citizens and stories of a community.

Alert Today Alive Tomorrow is a traveling exhibit of the ways Americans responded to the threat of an atomic war in the 1950’s and ’60s. The museum also has its own exhibit of how Elmhurst and its residents coped with that threat. Among the artifacts, posters, and videos of Civil Defense newsreels, there were also several “declassified” videos of local residents telling of their experiences living in Elmhurst at the time of nuclear threat and what they and their families did. It includes two men who tell of building bomb shelters on their properties, one a child at the time, the other a young construction worker who built his own bomb shelter two feet under his basement. The interviews were quite cleverly done in black and white with a reel-to-reel in the background and one light hanging from the ceiling; an atmospheric interpretation of the era.

I was so proud of Donna’s willingness to share her experience as a young mother in the ’60’s and her contributions and appreciate that she gave up a chance to attend the opening in order to host our gathering. I thought about the Cold War and the sense of dread I sometimes felt as a child, especially at school on days we had Civil Defense drills, ducking and covering under my desk in the event of a nuclear attack. (I wrote about it last year here.)

I also thought about the book we just read,  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which spans part of the same time period. We tend to glorify the 50’s and 60’s and the simplicity of the times. In so many ways it really wasn’t simple at all.

I was reminded that reading books is not just about the words on the pages. It is also about the ways books expose us to literature and history, the famous and infamous and ordinary folks.  They help us learn and explore science and medicine, theology and philosophy. Books connect us as people to other times and places, and to each other where we learn the most amazing things.

I love the book group I am in.

These are a few pictures I took of the traveling exhibit.

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I have found that some of the most interesting museums are local ones. They are set in old mansions and schoolhouses, courthouses and train depots. They tell the story of a town and it’s reflection on the world at large. They most often start as grassroots efforts to save an old home or homestead and just as often grow to become meccas of local history. Such is the case of the Elmhurst Historical Museum.

I had the privilege of attending the opening of two stellar exhibits last Friday and went back yesterday afternoon to have a closer look. As part of a year-long commemoration of the start of the American Civil War 150 years ago, two exhibits, “Letters From Home” and “Between the States, Photographs of the American Civil War of the George Eastman House Collection” will be on display at the museum until December .

“Between the States” is a traveling exhibit of facsimile photographs of Civil War soldiers, battlefields, and notables of the time. It is a small exhibit, but, worthy of a few moments of time, not only for the photographs, but, to witness how photography came into its own during the 1860’s and how it impacted war and informed those at home.

“Letter From Home” is a collaboration between the Elmhurst History Museum and the Elmhurst Artists’ Guild and it brings the reality of the Civil War home to the area. Twenty nine letters to Frederick Fischer, who served in the Civil War,  have been preserved for 150 years. They are the center point of the exhibit. They are touching, formal, instructive in the hands of the father, Henry Fischer, sad, and they are a reflection of how folks coped and communicated during the Civil War.

Local artists, members of the Guild, were invited to choose a portion of a letter and interpret it artistically. The letters are from Frederick’s family at home; his father, brothers, and even his little sister. They are all to Frederick. One other brother, Augustus, also served and, sadly, we learn of his death in battle through one of the letters.

I was moved by the words, as I was moved by the art. Photographing in the museum was not permissible, but, you can view some of the artwork and parts of letters here. I encourage you to visit the Elmhurst Historical Museum if you are near Elmhurst.

Along with the exhibit, recorded readings of the letters can be heard by members of the Green Man Theater Troupe. Be assured, they have done an excellent job in capturing the heart of the letters.

Information on the exhibit and the Elmhurst History Museum can be found at www.elmhurst.org/index.aspx?nid=620.

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My admiration of Louisa May Alcott is known among my friends and documented on these cyber-pages. I can still see the tear stained pages of my first copy of Little Women as Beth takes her last breath; how I tried not to sob on my library book, failing miserably.  I was a young girl, a not-so-young girl, a granny, and I’ve treasured Alcott’s books and books about Alcott ever since that first schoolgirl reading.

We walked around Walden Pond a few years ago. I imagined Jo and Laurie skating on ice there and Meg falling in. I imagined Alcott’s friend, Henry Thoreau, talking to a young Louisa as she looked on in admiration. We walked through the rooms of Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts and I marveled at the simple desk she penned her most famous novel and many more works and we visited Concord’s cemetery, Sleepy Hollow. Author’s Ridge is high on top, overlooking the town, and it is there that Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau are buried and there where Louisa May rests in the simple grave above the famous town.

When my friend Sharon told me of a presentation of Alcott at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, I just knew I had to go.

Leslie Goddard, in period costume, a deep purple day dress with long, flowing sleeves and lace collar, gave a riveting impersonation of Louisa May Alcott, speaking about her experiences as a Union war nurse during the Civil War. Taken from Alcott’s “Hospital Sketches”, Ms. Goddard excelled in bringing the author to life with the wit and compassion found in Alcott’s writing.

Goddard, as Alcott, told of her eagerness to be part of the war and how she enlisted as a nurse with Dorothea Dix. She told of the hardships of war and the horrible injuries suffered and of the dying man she tended to, staying with him until his last breath, holding his hand and then carefully prying it away, his grip still tight after he passed away. She also told of the illness she suffered, typhus pneumonia, after only being at the hospital for three weeks and which ended her military nursing.

It was an amazing dramatization. I wish you could have been there to see it. Thank you Sharon for telling me about it and sharing the experience. It so gratifying to spend time with friends, learn new things, and be further enlightened about a favorite author.

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