This weekend in Cantigny Park, Jill Gibson will wear the signature blue blouse, yellow hat and charming demeanor of beloved children's book character Madeline.
"It's funny to see some of the children really thinking I'm her," said Gibson, the park's education and volunteer coordinator who has portrayed Madeline in the past. "I'm always taking pictures with children and adults, and sometimes the children get very into it and dress up like her themselves."
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If you goWhat: French Connection Day festival
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Cost: Free with $5 parking
Info: cantigny.org or (630) 668-5161
Reading the classic books to assembled children, Gibson will hardly be the most unusual element in a festival that also includes wandering mimes and a 23-foot replica Eiffel Tower.
Cantigny Park's annual French Connection Day celebrates all things French from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10, at the park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton.
Reinforcing the French theme will be aisles of fresh produce and baked goods in a traditional French market style, food samples from Cantigny's Le Jardin restaurant, and open spaces for playing pétanque, a French variant on the ball-throwing Italian yard game bocce ball.
"We've got a large variety of activities that makes this very welcoming for the whole family," Cantigny Park Communications Manager Jeff Reiter said. "It's really a great way to celebrate French culture, and it ties in with Robert McCormicks's history with France very well."
As Reiter suggests, the heavy French theme for a Wheaton festival is not by accident. Robert R. McCormick, who owned the property he ultimately donated to become a park and museum, had a deep connection to the European country from his childhood, when his father was an ambassador to France. McCormick would tour the country with his wife, Amy Irwin Adams, as newlyweds in 1915, and became a war correspondent and colonel during World War I. He most notably participated in the 1918 Battle of Cantigny, the first major American offensive in the war, and the experience would have a lasting impact on the young journalist.
"It really was a watershed moment in the war, and he came from that experience wanting to commemorate the 1st Division he fought in when they returned in 1918," said Diane Gutenkauf, director of the Robert R. McCormick Museum.
McCormick renamed his estate Cantigny after the battle, and though he gained immense wealth as owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, he forever would remember the bravery he saw in France. When he died in 1955, his trustees converted the land for public use, eventually erecting the military museum and developing the grounds to honor American veterans.
"His experiences in France were very important," Gutenkauf said. "It really had an impact on what he dedicated himself to back in the United States, and that was one of the things that prompted this event."
Going strong since 2008, organizers say the festival is one of the more popular and well-attended Cantigny programs of the year, drawing 3,000 additional guests to the grounds, especially families with children. In addition to storytelling with Madeline, young festivalgoers can be budding George Seurats at a pointillism art station, or enjoy contemporary French music by returning group Traveler's Stream.
"It's a great atmosphere," Gibson said. "It's very easy to stroll through the festival at a minimal cost and take in what it has to offer."
For information, visit cantigny.org or call (630) 668-5161. Admission is free with $5 parking.