Once Upon a Time…Growing Up in Winnetka

Gazette Article by: Liz Nesler
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring/Summer 2007

Winnetka has always cherished its young people. And generations of Winnetkans have preserved memories of those fleeting years by saving photographs, clothing, toys, and other mementos. As the fortunate recipient of many such treasures, the Winnetka Historical Society is pleased to celebrate over 100 years of youth in the Village with its exhibit, “Once Upon a Time…Growing Up in Winnetka.”

According to Stephanie Giordano, curator of the Society’s museum at 411 Linden, a series of displays reminiscent of colossal scrapbook pages will provide glimpses of Winnetka youth from 1860 through 1980. Each “scrapbook” will feature artifacts, photographs, documents, and mementos from a 20-year period. School photos, commencement programs and even a whooping cough quarantine card are among the many items gleaned from the Society’s collection. Toys, clothing, and accessories will bring each period to life.

The exhibit will examine a wide range of ages, from infancy through the teenage years. Themes include school days, clubs, organizations, and the delights of unstructured free time. The military uniform of Winnetka resident Rodger Morris, who in 1944 enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17, brings poignant meaning to the teen years.

Elizabeth Carlson, curator of the Society’s costume collection, selected a representative sampling of clothing including play clothes; school clothes; special occasion outfits; uniforms for scouts, gym class, and cheerleading; and costumes for Halloween and historical reenactments. Of special interest is an eighteenth-century-style red velvet boy’s suit worn in the Village’s 1876 tableau celebrating the United States’ Centennial. Other highlights include three items worn by children of the Otis family in the 1890s: a pair of baby shoes, a silk party dress, and a sailor suit.

Not to be missed is the array of toys and objects on loan from friends of the Society and from the Society’s permanent collection. Of particular note are a Native American arrowhead, ax head, and a “lucky stone” necklace made from fossils and Indian fishing line sinkers. Among many other striking items are a 1922 Wizard of Oz board game, a doll, and a child’s high chair from the late 1800s.

An interactive feature gives young museum visitors the opportunity to become living paper dolls by attaching fabric costumes to two life-size flat-figures, each with space for the child’s head above. A dozen reproduction outfits representing the full time span of the exhibit will be available to Velcro onto the forms, which face a full-length mirror.

Some local children and teens are actively involved with the exhibit. Two grade-school classes and members of the Winnetka Youth Organization are preparing projects that will be donated to the Society to bring the exhibit into the present day. Projects such as these, and especially the “Winnetka Stories” initiative to gather memories of current residents are part of the Society’s ongoing mission to preserve all eras of the Village’s history.

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