Five memorable items at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville
Because the public can't visit the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville due to the state's stay-at-home order, I asked its curators to share a few memorable and favorite items from the exhibition galleries and collections.
The Lake Country Forest Preserves operate the Dunn Museum at 1899 W. Winchester Road. Objects from the collections are showcased in exhibitions and education programs, and rotated in and out of the galleries to tell the many stories of Lake County.
When not on exhibition, the collections, which comprise nearly 20,000 artifacts and 1,000 linear feet of archival materials, are securely housed in a modern, environmentally controlled care and storage facility in the museum's lower level.
The collections, and how they are maintained, contributed to the Dunn Museum gaining national recognition. It is among the elite group of 3 percent of U.S. museums that are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
Curators Diana Dretske and Heather Johnson shared information about a few of their favorite items.
"They represent the talents, inventiveness and caring of past citizens," Dretske said. Some of the collections have been digitized to make them accessible 24/7 at LCFPD.org/collections.
History from nearly 50 Lake County schools, collections from Fort Sheridan, Civil War letters, and other topics are hosted on the Illinois Digital Archives with direct links from the museum's Web page.
USS Olympia Model
In 1898, Edward Amet (1860-1948) of Waukegan made this model of the USS Olympia for a series of films on the Spanish-American War. This model is one of the earliest known special effects props used in motion pictures.
Amet was an electrical engineer and self-styled "consulting inventor." Among his many inventions was his Magniscope, which is considered the first practical 35 mm motion picture projector.
Several of his Spanish-American War films were made in 1898 in his backyard at 421 North Ave. in Waukegan. Since it was mainly a naval war, Amet needed to construct a shallow water tank (18 feet-by-14 feet) and make model ships. The USS Olympia was the flagship of Commodore Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. Amet rigged the ship models with gunpowder and camphor-soaked cotton, which he electrically ignited to create smoke for the ship's smokestacks.
One of Amet's earliest films, featured the museum's namesake, Bess Bower Dunn, and friend Isabella Spoor in a lighthearted boxing match.
Hough HL Wheel Loader Model
Engineer Frank G. Hough (1890-1965) pioneered wheel loaders, and his Frank G. Hough Company would become one of Lake County's largest employers.
In the early 1930s, while his competitors used a cable winch to raise and lower a loader's bucket, Hough designed a hydraulically operated system for earthmoving. Hough also coined the term "payloader," which soon became synonymous for all wheel loaders, no matter the manufacturer.
In 1939, Hough opened a plant in Libertyville, which contained his entire operation -- design, supply and manufacture -- all in one location.
This HL Wheel Loader model in the collection is a scaled-down working model taken to trade shows in the 1970s. It was donated to the Dunn Museum by Komatsu America International Company in 1998.
The machine did all the work of breathing for a person placed in an iron lung, functioning for paralyzed or weakened diaphragm muscles.
In 1949, The Ladies of Auxiliary of St. Therese Hospital in Waukegan purchased an iron lung for the hospital for $1,000. At that time, in the midst of the polio epidemic, there were only two other iron lungs in Lake County. The iron lung was donated to the Dunn Museum in 1972 when it was no longer needed due to the decrease of polio infections.
The success of the iron lung proved the significance of respiratory intervention in medical treatment of patients. Although no longer in use today, it led to continued research in respiratory medicine and the development of modern ventilators.
Charles Warner's Cathedral Models
Ordinary people can hide extraordinary talent, as was the case with Polish immigrant Charles Warner (1895-1964) of Mundelein.
In his retirement years, beginning in 1955, Warner made bird boxes in his workshop behind the family home. He quickly turned his woodworking skills to building cathedral models using a jackknife and jigsaw. He built five cathedrals, standing from 3 feet to 5 feet tall; each took one year to complete.
The colorful and intricately hand-carved creations evoked Warner's memories of his childhood in Prussia and of his Catholic upbringing. Today, the models are considered folk art, since Warner had no formal training in the arts. It is believed the models are not specific to any cathedral. He painted them in bright colors to emulate traditional Polish folk art. Warner died in 1964. In 1982 his daughter, Lucille Warner, donated the cathedral models to the Dunn Museum.
Captain Minskey's Patent Log
One of the older and more unusual objects in the collection is a patent log, circa 1855, used by Captain Hanson Minskey (1809-1881) on the Great Lakes.
From the 1840s to 1880, Minskey captained Schooners on the Great Lakes delivering lumber from Milwaukee to Waukegan, and hauling grain and other provisions to Chicago and Buffalo, New York.
Patent logs were actual logs tied to the stern of a ship to register speed and distance traveled through water.
Help the Dunn Museum Document History
"The items described above offer snapshots of times past in Lake County. It is easy to forget that each day is really history in the making. Right now we are all living through a significant moment in history, here in Lake County and around the world," Director of Education Nan Buckardt said.
As principal steward of Lake County's history, the Dunn Museum is currently documenting the impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Museum staff is seeking to collect stories, digital photographs, and objects that demonstrate how COVID-19 is affecting the lives of Lake County residents, businesses and caregivers.
"You can help us in this COVID-19 Documentation Project by sharing your personal experiences, photographs and artifacts for study, research and exhibition in the future, at a time when this experience will be considered just a moment in history. I hope you all participate and help us create this archive."
Visit LCFPD.org/documentation to contribute to the project.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.