22 additions that help museum collect, preserve Lake County's history
A wool blanket made by an early settler family in the 1850s and a tool chest built nearly a century later by a worker at the famous Frank G. Hough Co. are among the 22 new additions to the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County.
The museum operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District routinely is contacted by people and organizations with items they are willing to donate. But it is a tough cut to make: the 22 items being added were selected by a collection committee from among 71 possibilities presented since October 2016.
"There really was an outhouse offered to us," said Diana Dretske, museum curator and Lake County historian.
That offer was rejected.
"What story does it tell? How old? What condition? Where would we store it?" are the questions committee members ask before accepting any proposed donation, Dretske said.
Among the new items are a circa-1950 "Rexettes" jacket worn by basketball and softball teams sponsored by Dr. Eugene "Rex" King in Zion, Waukegan and North Chicago; a flyer and tickets for a Jack Benny benefit concert in Waukegan; 39 land deeds for acquisition of right of way for the Palatine, Lake Zurich & Wauconda railroad, which operated from 1913 to 1924; photos of flooding in Grant Township, circa 1960; and folk art weather vanes from the Lakewood Farm.
The collection committee is composed of two curators, a collections/exhibits manager, an education manager and the superintendent of educational facilities. It meets several times a year.
Items are reviewed and gauged as to how they represent the people, places and events of Lake County through the years; whether the museum already has something similar; whether they are able to be stored and cared for; the potential to be used for research; and other criteria. Offerings include a cornucopia of images, written records and objects spanning a wide range of time and topics.
Most of the donation offers receive a thanks, but no thanks.
Some of donated items the museum staff find most intriguing:
• Wool blanket made by Clarissa Cutler Nichols, circa 1850. Nichols raised and sheared the sheep, corded and spun the wool, and wove it into a blanket at the family's cabin in Benton Township. It tells the story of a different time in Lake County, when possessions were made or bought only through hard work and all were precious. This was donated by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. "It's a pretty remarkable item," said Andrew Osborne, superintendent of educational facilities for the Dunn museum.
• Pine chest brought to Warren Township by the Shumway family in 1844. Franklin Shumway and Laura Ann Mixer met at a mill in Vermont, married and traveled by way of the Erie Canal, carrying their possessions in the chest. They landed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and found land to settle in Lake County. The chest tells a story that is both personal and national, and it was donated by a descendant living in California who felt it belonged in Lake County.
• Tool chest made and used by John A. Rasmussen when he worked in the tool-and-die department at the Frank G. Hough Co. in Libertyville in the 1940s. Hough personally hired Rasmussen. The chest with felt-lined drawers includes Rasmussen's tools, apron and order forms. The company once employed 3,000 people in Libertyville and in 1952 became a wholly owned subsidiary of International Harvester Co. The tool chest was donated by Rasmussen's daughter, who wanted to preserve and share it.
• Postimpressionistic-style painting of a horse named Suzy Q. and the Des Plaines River at White Way Farms. The painting was commissioned by Edward and Ernestine White in 1938. He was a Russian immigrant and former wrestling promoter in Chicago. They owned the farm, which now is part of the Independence Grove Forest Preserve, from 1928 to the mid-1940s. The family wanted more people to know the history. "You can put that painting up and people can connect with it immediately," Dretske said.
Acquisitions were put on hold when the former Lake County Discovery Museum at the Lakewood Forest Preserve closed, was rebranded and relocated to the forest district's headquarters in Libertyville. The Dunn Museum opened last March.
The only items planned for immediate exhibition are photos and records of the Booker T. Washington Club in Zion. There are ideas of how to display some of the other new donations, Dretske said, but they are not on the exhibit schedule at this time.