Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Object of the Month, October 2014 "Sickle"

Object of the Month: Sickle
by Philip Mohr, curator

Sickles are among the oldest agricultural tools. The blade cuts crops, and its curved shape gathers the cuttings for easy collecting. Harvesting crops with hand tools is very slow and laborious in comparison to the powered mechanical equipment developed since the mid-1800s. The History Center has no details specific to this sickle, but it may have been used on a Des Plaines farm for harvesting some crops where mechanized harvesting was not an option. Not even a century ago, many Maine Township residents would have spent this time of year harvesting their crops for sale to Chicago markets or local canning operations.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Object of the Month, July 2014
"Hand Fan: Elite Candy Shop"
by curator Philip Mohr

In the heat of the summer, let’s look at what some Des Plaines residents did to stay cool about one hundred years ago. This is a hand fan made from cardboard and wood. The fan itself was a means to stay cool, but the more interesting history is in the advertisement printed on the cardboard.

On one side is a picture of a baby sitting in a tub of water with the faucet pouring water on its head. The baby is eating a large lump of ice cream. A hand fan sits next to the tub along with a glass of water with lemon. A thermometer indicates a high temperature. With an elated smile, the baby says, “What care I how hot it be.” The reverse side reads, “Elite Candy Shop, Ice Cream and Sodas, Fine Confectionery, Stationery and Magazines, Gift Novelties and Greeting Cards, Ellinwood Avenue, Des Plaines, Illinois.” The advertisement is clear, in weather where someone would want a hand fan, the candy shop stood to serve them refreshment. Perhaps you, as a customer, could be as ecstatic as the little baby.

Researching this object is difficult. The donor found the object in a house he bought. He could not tell us anything about its provenance. So we have to do some digging elsewhere in the History Center collections. Based on the fan itself, the Elite Candy Shop existed on Ellinwood in Des Plaines. We have no information on when the store first opened. Looking them up in old street directories yields limited results. It appears in 1917 along with the Echo Sweet Shop in an advertisement for Orange-JooJ. It then appears in the 1924 street directory as a regular listing. No later book includes the Elite Candy Shop.

The two listings give clues that suggest a struggling business. In 1917, the shop did not headline in its only advertisement in the street directory. A brand they sold appeared more important. Elite and Echo had to share some space in favor of promoting the Orange-JooJ drink. In 1924, shows that Elite did not spend any extra money on making their listing stand out like many other businesses. Perhaps this meant that Elite had little money to put into such things. At any rate, it appears that the Elite Candy Shop closed in the mid- or late-1920s.

Do you have more information on the Elite Candy Shop? Please contact the Des Plaines History Center at 847-391-5399 or

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I am very sorry that this post is so late! However, we are very happy to announce that every Object of the Month that goes on display in the Des Plaines History Center then moves to a display case at the Des Plaines Park District Leisure Center at 2222 Birch Street. If you miss them here, check them out over there!

Object of the Month: April 2014
cream pail, butter paddle, butter mold, butter dish
Philip Mohr, DPHC curator

The object of the month is several pieces from one family that show the steps of making butter. First is a small cream pail. Cream was/is made by allowing raw milk to sit. The fat rises to the top of the milk like oil floating on water. That fattier part of the milk is “skimmed” off and used as cream. The remaining milk contains less fat, hence “skim milk”.

Butter is made in a churn, which does nothing except stir the cream. Molecules of fat in cream collide with each other in the churning process. They eventually stick together to form lumps of butter. The remaining liquid is called buttermilk. Buttermilk would be drained off and used as a flavoring agent—like in pancakes or biscuits—or a drink in itself. This is one example of how thrift was part of every household tasks.

The remaining butter would be placed into a bowl and worked with a butter paddle. Paddles came in different shapes and sizes, but the vast majority of them resemble this one. People mashed the butter against the side of the bowl to work out any remaining buttermilk that could ruin the finished product.

Once nearly all the buttermilk was out of the bowl, they would often scoop the butter into a mold. The mold would squeeze the last ounces of buttermilk out of the butter and give it shape. A mold such as this should remind you of the shape of a box of four sticks of butter you might buy at the supermarket these days. It is just the right size to fit two cups of butter. Many people might have a mold that puts a design of a flower or a leaf on the finished butter. Some even had molds in different shapes such as circles and stars.

When presentation was important (which was more often than not a hundred years ago) butter would be served in a fancy dish. This glass butter dish shows a style that was popular for decades. It is made of pressed glass, and was therefore manufactured along with thousands of others just like it in a mold kind of like how the butter itself would be pressed into a design.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Des Plaines History Center welcomes the 2014 baseball season!

Manuscript of the Month, April 2014
"1995 Official Yearbook of the Des Plaines Chiefs"
by guest blogger Benjamin Ill

While combing through the archives located within the Des Plaines History Center, I came across a box titled “Local Baseball Teams.” Being a red-blooded American, I pounced on the box and enthusiastically rifled through its contents, and what I found was the 1995 Official Yearbook of the Des Plaines Chiefs. The Des Plaines Chiefs were an amateur baseball team, formerly the Kenosha Chiefs, that moved to Des Plaines in 1995. The yearbook itself contains a few pages of advertisements for local businesses, a copy of the teams 1995 schedule, player biographies, official scorecards, and an interesting article entitled “Business Before Baseball.” Historians or local history enthusiasts can utilize this document in a number of different ways.

The “Business Before Baseball” article found within the yearbook provides a number of insights regarding amateur baseball and the process in which a team can form. The new stadium, “Oakton Plaines,” was the result of Oakton Community College (OCC) and Kenosha Chiefs Owner Scott Barter realizing a mutually beneficial relationship through amateur baseball. For Scott Barter, it was an agreement that provided his baseball team with a much needed home. For OCC, it was a way to make much needed improvements to its baseball facilities. Realizing the mutual need and the opportunities a new stadium would create for both parties, the $575,000 dollar stadium project was agreed upon. The new facility was to include lighting, seating for 1500, concession and restroom facilities, locker rooms, and parking for 300 cars.

The article also provides information regarding investment and revenue. For instance, the $575,000 dollar stadium was broken down into different tiers. 4 investors contributed the bulk of the funding to the tune of $425,000 while 30 investors made up the remaining $150,000 with a minimum investment of $5,000. The group would then expect a return on their investment, projecting $159,775 in revenue generated in the first year by billboard advertisements, concession sales, and field rentals for local organizations and tournaments.

The team itself created an opportunity for local high school and college baseball players to continue playing throughout the summer. With 37 games scheduled between May and August, the Des Plaines Chiefs were expected to not only provide local players with a competitive opportunity, but also provide affordable entertainment for the local community throughout the summer. Upon examination of the players biographies found within the yearbook, 11 players listed on the roster attended OCC, 9 players attended other colleges, and 9 players were from local area high schools.

This Yearbook is very interesting for a number of reasons. First, who knew there was an amateur baseball team in Des Plaines?! I was born and raised in northwest Chicagoland and have never heard of the team. Second, the business side of amateur baseball is highlighted within the yearbook, providing insight into the cooperation necessary between an organization and locale in creating a successful stadium project. Third, it provides interesting insight into the players and coaches that made up the team. By leafing through this document an interesting, pure American story can be told regarding Des Plaines and its involvement in Americas Favorite Pastime!        

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Photo of the Month, March 2014
"Admiral Music Maids"
by guest blogger Patrick Vonesh

Greetings, and I hope you are all celebrating Women's History Month. Keeping with the same theme, the museum has uncovered an interesting pair of photos. Pitcher Teddy Hamilton and Outfielder Pauline Crawley are pictured in their Music Maid uniforms. In case people in the community were unaware, the Music Maids were a team in the National Girls Baseball League (NGBL) which ran from 1944-1954. This story is especially important to Des Plaines history, as the team was based out of the town. According to the images, the team played at "Admiral Stadium which was near Pesche's property on River Road" (between Golf and Rand). The NGBL is known as "Chicago's Forgotten League" and has peaked historical interest in recent years. 

 Teddy Hamilton, pitcher

Pauline Crawley, outfield

A website was founded for the preservation of the league's history, and a documentary appears to be in the works. Along with images and video, there are player bios that have been filled in by family members. This is where you come in: Calling all family members of Music Maids! We seek more information about the baseball league from people in the community. Pictures, uniforms, oral histories: these can all help to save the story of "Chicago's Forgotten League."
If you have more information on the Music Maids, Admiral Stadium, or other baseball topics in Des Plaines, please contact History Center staff. We also encourage you to share information with people trying to make a documentary on the NGBL at Any information would benefit our shared history of Des Plaines.

I wish everyone a great Women's History Month! Now, star asking around town about the Music Maids.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Object of the Month, March 2014
“T-shirt: NOW Walkathon”
by curator Philip Mohr

The Des Plaines History Center is commemorating Women’s History Month with a shirt from the Des Plaines-Park Ridge Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). The year 1982 was a special time for NOW in Illinois. This was the tenth and final year they pushed for the Illinois state legislature to ratify the national Equal Rights Amendment. It must have seemed like a now-or-never moment for equal-rights feminists in Illinois. The June 30, 1982, deadline passed without the amendment’s ratification.

The Des Plaines-Park Ridge NOW carried on its work. They hosted a ten kilometer “Spirited Walk for Women’s Rights” starting at Lake Opeka and “through Des Plaines”.  It was held on October 31 (Halloween), which allowed a play on the word spirit. The day also included speeches in support of the NOW agenda. Proceeds from the walk went toward the chapter’s expenses: their newsletters, events, training, and public activism.

Unfortunately, we do not have much information about the turnout for the walkathon or any pictures from the event. The History Center is fortunate to have this shirt as well as some administrative records and newsletters from the local NOW chapter. On the left is the letter mailed with Walkathon pledge cards (click to enlarge). If you have more information on the Des Plaines-Park Ridge NOW or on this walkathon, please contact the Des Plaines History Center at 847-391-5399 or

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Manuscript of the Month - February 2014

An Oration, Delivered at Wheeling, Cook County Illinois, July 4, 1839, Being the Sixty 
Third Anniversary of American Independence, by Augustus H. Conant, Farmer.
Chicago: Rudd and Childs,. Printers, 1839.

by Benjamin Ill, guest blogger

On July 4, 1839, a farmer from Des Plaines gave an oration at a celebration of American Independence held in Wheeling, Illinois. What began as enthusiastic praise for the national spirit and a reminder of the nation’s unfettered character quickly turned into something the attendees did not expect. Augustus H. Conant, an active member of the Unitarian Church and local temperance movements, began to speak out against the institution of slavery. Conant stated that “while we pride ourselves on being the freest and one of the most enlightened nations of the earth, shall it be told that a system of oppression and wrong receives the sanction of our laws, and millions are crushed under a despotism a thousand times more galling than the British yoke?”

The questions raised by Conant in Wheeling reflected the greater sectional crisis that had gripped the nation since its inception. How can the United States of America claim all the enlightened arguments of liberty and rights for all mankind if it still allowed slavery to not only survive but flourish? While most northern states had outlawed slavery and moved toward an economy predicated on wage labor, the southern states had remained an agricultural society that was dependent on slavery. Generally speaking, the debates over slavery fell into two major categories; moral and religious arguments, and free labor arguments. Many abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison spoke out against the evils of slavery, not only for the obvious reasons that humans should not be held as chattel but also that such an institution bred moral corruption that undermined family values. Free labor arguments, politicized by the Free Soil Party, argued that slavery was an inefficient and outdated practice that undermined a healthy economy based on the labor of free men.

The oration given by Augustus H. Conant [the Des Plaines History Center holds facsimile copies of the publication] touches upon both of these main arguments, and implores the gathered to see the practice for what it was, and declared that “Would not the poorest son of New England shed the last drop of his blood sooner than yield his family to slavery, to be torn from his bosom, and separated from each other, and driven like brutes from their homes, to labor, toil, and sweat for the benefit of a Southern planter?” He continues to explain that the north was not free of the shame of slavery, regardless of whether or not the states were free states or slave states, as the nation was one nation, and one states shame was the whole nation’s shame. He goes even further by addressing the threats of secession, as he declared that “The South has everything to fear from such an event, while we have comparatively nothing.”
Besides being a very well constructed and argued speech, Conant’s oration is fascinating because it draws the major arguments against slavery together into a single condemnation, which was rather rare at the time as most anti-slavery arguments were based on one thing or another, usually moral arguments and free labor arguments. In a brief history of Conant’s life written by his friend Robert Collyer it states that “Mr. Conant was denounced, reviled, and invited to eat his words,” illustrating the unpopularity of Conant’s position, even in a free state such as Illinois. However, as Mr. Collyer explains, “Instead of doing that, he went to Chicago, and got the oration printed out at his own expense, sent it flying broadcast over the settlement, and so became known at once as one of the champions for freedom in that part of the country.” While this entry only touches on a few points made by Augustus H. Conant, the document housed in the archives here at the Des Plaines History Center serves as a terrific example of the political and social conflicts that plagued the country from its beginnings to the Civil War that would erupt over twenty years after Conant gave his speech in Wheeling.

The Des Plaines History Center invite you to follow our daily tweeting of Augustus Conant's diary: @conant_tweets.