55 Years Later, Participants Recall a Historic Book Move

Book MoveIf you had a chance to check out our 2nd floor display during July, you would have seen a number of photographs showing the creation of the current library building, which opened to the public in 1958.

By the mid-1950s, it had become obvious to everyone that the original Carnegie library at the corners of Prospect and Northwest Highway had become hopelessly inadequate for the growing Park Ridge population. A referendum passed in January of 1956, approving a $350,000 bond to build a new library, and ground broke on the project six months later.

In the fall of 1957, a local paper recorded progress on the construction:

“Exterior work on the new Library Building is now all completed except for minor cleanup activities . . . Inside the building, the work on trim and woodwork is in the final stages. So also is the painting and decorating of walls and ceilings . . . The Library Board and the Library staff are working on plans for moving day. This will be quite a job, involving the moving of thousands of books and the related library materials, equipment and records.”

The new building was beautiful – a model library in 1957 – and a tribute to its designers and builders. But the conundrum of how to move all the contents of the old library over to the new one without mixing everything up and leaving a logistical nightmare for the librarians still needed to be addressed.

How do you tackle such a huge project? You call in the Boy Scouts.

Actually, make that also the Camp Fire Girls, the Cub Scouts, and every other youth service organization that might contribute helpers. More than 800 children eventually played a part in carrying books over by hand in December, 1957, during what was supposed to be their Christmas break.

To be fair, the children earned credit towards their Scout badges and were giving a commemorative badge after the event, but the sheer number of items they moved – more than 20,000 – may go down in history as the single biggest volunteer event the Library has ever hosted.

The children, dressed in their service uniforms, were given numbers on their back and lined up outside the old library building, where they received small armloads of books from a staff member. With the help of the Police they trooped across Northwest Highway and Touhy, and then down Prospect to the front doors of the Library. Inside, more staff members guided them down the empty aisles to where the books would be shelved.

Barb Olsen, who was a Bluebird at the time, remembers the thrill of stopping traffic. “That was a big deal for a kid the 1950s,” she says.

Another volunteer, Dianne Kaiser, also remembers the lights and activity. “I can’t remember how many trips back and forth we made,” she remarks, “but it was so exciting to move into such a wonderful new building.”

The book move was no small feat to pull off considering that the weather was cold – only about 10 degrees above zero – and kids being what they are, there was a certain risk involved in trying to keep them all together.

Don Sebastian, a life-long resident and President of Sebastian Realty, admits that it almost got to be too much, even for the Scouts.

“It was tedious day,” he remembers. “At lunch time they let us sit on the floor of a big empty room on the lower level, and we ate our sandwiches. They also let us run around there and blow off steam.”

Which was possibly a mistake, he admits, because by the afternoon the recruits had begun to break rank, screaming and running across the lawn with their books (which occasionally fell into the snow, according to later news reports).

“We were dying to get rid of them,” Sebastian says.

Talking to the participants more than 50 years later, however, what stands out is their awe at the new Library, which was light-filled and cavernous, unlike the cozy, dark interior of the Carnegie Building. The long corridors of empty bookshelves were slightly intimidating to the children as they filed through. The picture below will give you an idea of what it looked like to them – interesting how time (and growing collections) have a way of shrinking space remarkably!
View of Interior from Balcony -1958

It’s probably no coincidence that the Children’s Department, which was housed in the lower level and had a separate entrance, would soon echo the feeling one had in the old library, with its overflowing shelves and tight little corners where a child could hide away with a book and not be bothered by any adults.

Thanks to the hundreds of intrepid book movers, the new Library was able to open on schedule, with the official dedication taking place on January 13, 1958. Fifty-five years later, we’re happy to say thank you again.


Remembering Trailblazer Bessie Hayles

On November 23, 1986, an article appeared in the Lancaster Sunday News entitled “A Feisty Feminist Turns 100.”

This told the story – at least part of it – of Bessie Hayles, born the eldest of 12 children on a farm in Honey Brook, PA. What makes her story interesting is the trail she blazed from Honey Brook to Park Ridge and back again to Pennsylvania in that space of time (and she would go on to live another four years).

As a young woman, Bessie worked as a trained nurse, seeing her patients through childbirth, typhoid fever, and flu epidemics. She joined the women’s suffrage movement, worked with Susan B. Anthony, and never missed an election after women won the right to vote in 1920. She prided herself on picking a large percentage of winners – her first choice for President being Warren G. Harding and her last George H.W. Bush.

Loving children but unable to have any of her own, she helped found and lead organizations like the Camp Fire Girls. She also worked with countless others during times of war and peace, including the Welfare Board, the American Legion, the Red Cross, and the League of Women Voters.

Along the way, she picked up a bemused but devoted husband, Frank Spensely Hayles, an English immigrant who became a naturalized citizen.

Bessie and Frank eventually moved to Park Ridge, and, not surprisingly, one stumbles across evidence of her involvement in almost every conceivable aspect of town life. She was one of the founding members of the Friends of the Park Ridge Public Library and served on the Library Board. She also served on the Park Ridge Improvement Club and the Community Church Circle. She directed pageants, organized mail sales, and helped plant flowers all around the city. During the war, she was the Chairman of the Committee on War Relief Activity and Morale, which sponsored activities such as “home nursing, knitting, quilting, sewing, scrapbooks, speakers, and law observation.”

Scrapbooks were apparently one of Bessie’s favorite projects. She kept several during WWII, many of them now in the Library’s Heritage Room archives. They include correspondence related to Red Cross and other efforts, advertisements, memorabilia, and news articles. We’ve pulled several of these items out for the July display occupying the Library’s 2nd floor cases.

In June, 1982, Bessie composed – in careful but shaky handwriting – a letter to Loraine Murray, who was working then on a history of Park Ridge. Bessie was 96 at the time, and joked about trying to remember the details of her life in Park Ridge, although she added, “Park Ridge memories give me many happy thoughts.”

“Park Ridge is home to me,” Bessie wrote, “where Mr. Hayles and I lived 28 years, on 501 Vine Ave., with only 2500 people and farms all around us.”

Later, when she was interviewed for the article on her centennial, Bessie was naturally asked the secret of her longevity. She did not mince words.

“It’s not that my health is so good. I’ve had intestinal cancer and kidney problems, and about a half dozen operations. It’s more that I fight things that could get me down.

“Some people come to a home and do nothing but eat and sleep. But I stay active. I make my own bed every morning. I walk to the dining room by myself. Some people let the least little thing get them right down. But me, I do things for myself.”

Bessie died in Pennsylvania on March 13, 1991, yet her body was returned to Park Ridge and now lies in the Town of Maine Cemetery.

To see some pictures and other items from Bessie Hayles scrapbooks, check out our display on the 2nd Floor, running through July.

G O P Women article -includes pic of Bessie (2)

Hard Times and the Library

Recently the Library put out its third “Snapshot” flyer offering details and trivia about a period in the Library’s past – in this case, the years 1933 – 1942. Reading it, one is struck by how much of that era still looms large in our country’s psyche.

We feel the impact of those decades in many areas, including the arts and entertainment. The 30s and 40s provided a backdrop to some intense creativity in America, and certain mediums, like Hollywood filmmaking, were in their golden age. For less than 50 cents, a person could get away from it all at a local movie palace like the Pickwick and watch now-classics like King Kong, Gone With the Wind, or The Wizard of Oz. Popular books included The Hobbit and The Grapes of Wrath. Songs like “Stormy Weather” and “White Christmas” hit the airwaves and remain hugely popular today – even in their original recordings.

These artistic legacies as much as anything else can help keep the past alive, even for people born much later. Yet perhaps a greater legacy was forged through the intensity of shared life experience during the 30s and 40s – first with the realities of the Depression and later during the trauma of WWII. These events impacted families and communities in ways they still haven’t forgotten. My father recalls walking in his neighborhood as a boy during the war, and seeing white stars hung in the windows of homes. These stars indicated that a soldier’s family lived there. There were gold stars, too, that announced when one of the young men had died in the conflict.

In Park Ridge, life during these decades was relatively subdued. Interestingly, the Library itself experienced a surge in growth – by the mid-30s, the original building began to reach its capacity, and the basement was turned into the Children’s Room. Ongoing space issues drove the creation of a South Library Branch on 618 Devon Avenue, which opened on October 29, 1937. More than 7,744 items were checked out at that branch in the first six months.

South Branch Building

Between 1935 and 1942, total circulation figures for the Library increased 50%. (This figure has had an interesting correlation in this last decade of the 21st Century, as circulation has increased more than 50%.)

Was it hard times that fueled the growth? Under such conditions, libraries can offer much to communities, but there was a notable sense of unity and purpose among Park Ridge residents when it came to supporting their Library at mid-century. Whether help came from the members of the Civil Works Administration who remodeled and redecorated during the Depression, or from the many private citizens who donated furniture, supplies, books, or volunteer labor, it came from a shared belief that the Library represented something that everyone needed: culture, enlightenment, and possibilities for a better future.

In July we’ll be featuring a second floor display that will highlight the Library’s history during this period – we hope you’ll stop by and take a look. In the meantime, you can pick up your free copy of the “Snapshot of 1933 – 1942,” or check it out here.

We’re Celebrating National Library Week

anniv_keychainJoin the Park Ridge Public Library as we recognize National Library Week (April 14 – 20), an annual celebration of libraries everywhere. This year’s theme, “Communities Matter @ Your Library,” draws special attention to how public libraries help sustain healthy communities.

To mark National Library Week and continue our own year-long celebration of the Library’s first century, we’re giving away commemorative 100th Anniversary key rings. Visit us during the week of April 14 – 20 and mention National Library Week when you check out! (One key chain per family, please.)

Key chains are generously provided by the Friends of the Library.

Letter from First Librarian Ruth Colman Offers Glimpse into WWI Period

The Park Ridge Historical Society frequently acquires new material to add to its collections, but its members were pleasantly surprised to discover in a recent cache two personal letters related to Ruth Colman, the Library’s first librarian.

Both letters, one written by Ruth herself and the other by her mother Annie, are addressed to Ruth’s younger brother George, a soldier stationed on the Western Front during WWI. Dated November 13, 1918 (two days after the signing of the Armistice), the letters reflect the relief and elation of two women who are eager to welcome George home.

“13th letter,” Ruth notes at the top of the page. “Have you all the others before this?” Although few details are known of George’s service, it was not unusual in the brutal final year of the war for contact between American soldiers and their families to be sporadic, at best. Ruth’s note suggests that at least one of George’s letters came through, and describes receiving a helmet he mailed from overseas:

My dear brother George!-

Well at last the biggest fight in the history of Old Mother Earth has come to a close! And it makes our hearts rejoice. We have been trying to imagine how you boys over there feel about it. But find it almost impossible.

Park Ridge was hilarious in its usual way not rowdiest or maudlin like Chicago and the big towns. They surely did let loose alright about every tenth person was drunk because of celebrating I have heard.

We got the helmet to-day. It came in the mail just as I had mailed Mother’s letter dated to-day to you, she said that as yet we haven’t rec’d it but now you can know it’s O.K. And we are ever so proud of it. Sammy Rattle is in the P.O. now and you can guess how he said these words to me. “I hate to give you the package I’d like to keep it” but when I insisted that he do so he said “Well that will be fine for George to look at when he is old.” Can’t you visualize yourself about 65 years hence resting in an arm chair feasting your eyes upon the helmet, trench mud and all? I can! We are all very well and happy to think you don’t have to dodge gas and shrapnel, etc.

Helen Holbrook expects to leave in a few days for Canteen work in a Y.M.C.A “over there.” The choir are having a little party for her at the church tonight. Hope you see her sometime.

Albert was here working to-day & he was so tickled when Mother let him cut the strings of the bag that fastened the helmet. He told everyone that went by about it. I took some snaps of him to-day. If they’re good I’ll send them over to you.

Lots of love and kisses from us all.

Lovingly, your sister


The moving letter from Mrs. Colman to her son, apparently written in a rush, describes how Park Ridge responded to the news of the Armistice, and provides a vivid glimpse into a moment of town history:

Park Ridge. Nov. 13. 1918

My Dear Son George:

Well I hardly know how to begin this letter. I’m so happy.

I can’t believe that this terrible war is over. Last Thursday we had a false alarm every one crazy the bell rang & whistles blew and it was like every thing had let loose all at one time. I had hysterics of course and cried instead of laughing, but I always do that I can’t help it. This has been such a strain for so long and then all of a sudden to hear that it is all over it is more than one can stand. Well the first report was denied when the evening papers came out and I was so disappointed so when the whistle blew and the bells rang at 2:30 Monday morning I just laid in bed and listened and prayed and thanked god that it was over and asked that he would be near to our boys and keep them well and strong and good so that when they come back to us they will be even better than when they left home and I do hope that will be soon. If it’s right for you to come. I prayed and was so thankful. Well papa could not sleep and he got up and dressed and turned on all the lights both lights out doors front and back then got out our big flag we always have a small one floating in the breeze but he had to do something. Then he and Marie went up town with a flag over their shoulders and met a big crowd and then all marched all over town singing and cheering and the drum and bugle corps marched ahead of them. They marched until 5 o’clock and then came home. Ruth and Rick & I were just ready to go up town when they came back but stayed home and we had breakfast at 5:15 I made waffles and coffee I was so excited I had to do something so I put on the boiler and washed part of the washing and I had invited Mr. Earle and Esther over for supper. Mrs. Earle is still in St. Louis she is coming home some day this week and brings the baby. Be sure and don’t say any thing about Mazie for Mr. Earle don’t want Walter to know it. He wrote to Walter and told him she was a very sick girl but he don’t want him to feel badly away from home it won’t do him any good. Well George I hope now you can write a little more in your letters than you did before and at least you can tell where you are and how you are living? And what you are doing? Don’t get careless now and get sick over there. You have been so well all the time. Mr. Earle said Walter had been sick What was the matter with him? When do you think you boys will be back home? Tell me if you know. I think I will go in an airplain (sic) to New York to meet you. I never have wanted to go up in one before but I sure would do it if I could get to New York sooner to meet you. I can hardly wait until you get home. If you are needed over there tho’ I will not say a word for I know they need so much done the French people have suffered so much and the Belgian’s too. I will try and be patient until the time comes for you to come home. I always want you to do your duty. You boys have done so well up to now you can do just a little more if Uncle Sam asks you. I am out on this United Charity’s workers drive this week and hope to get a nice sum for all the charities. This money you know is to help you boys while you are over there.

All of us back home are doing what we can to help in every way we can to make life as pleasant for you boys over there as we can. I haven’t seen Betty yet but will write to her and have her come down again soon. I received your letter of Oct. 13 with the Xmas coupon I will pack it tomorrow and send it off I hope you will have a good thanksgiving dinner I know you will have turkey and I hope you get your Xmas box. I wish I could send more. The G.E. are sending you a 5.00 box of candy and cigarettes from Mandel’s I hope you get it ok – have you sent the Helmet yet?
So was George actually able to sit in his armchair and reflect on the helmet 65 years later? Not quite, but he still had a full life. Only about 21 when the war ended, he came home and later married a girl named Emma Levander, the daughter of Swedish immigrants. They would go on to have at least two children. In 1942, George would register once again for the draft, although he apparently did not serve. He died in 1962.

George Colman, about age 30.

George Colman, about age 30.

Our heartfelt thanks go to Paul Adlaf and the Park Ridge Historical Society for permission to include these letters on our blog. For more information about the Society and its holdings, please visit http://www.pennyville.org.

The Library During the 20s: A Snapshot

Anyone who thinks that the Park Ridge Library existed as no more than a humble little book repository in the years following its debut only has to glance at the records to realize that it quickly became much more.

Especially after Frances Holbrook took over as Park Ridge’s head librarian in 1920, a number of innovations were introduced. One was an extension service to Maine Center School that brought books to the children once a week. Frances also launched a weekly column in the local paper that gave important library news and listed any new materials available. Her early attempts at marketing apparently paid off: by 1932, some 83,145 books had been circulated, an increase of nearly 23,000 from the previous year.

In an earlier post I mentioned one of the most interesting new developments – the introduction of the summer reading club. Called the Vacation Reading Club at first, it started small in 1924 but quickly grew in popularity. Within eight years, more than 600 children had signed up (and these days well over 2,000 a year participate).

What’s striking is that the Library always had plenty of competition from the culture. By the late 20s movies were starting to make their mark – Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were captivating audiences, and in 1927 Al Jolson introduced the first talkie. The euphoria after the end of the war also paved the way for jazz clubs, raucous parties, short skirts, and what might be considered America’s first sexual revolution.

We’ve put together another Snapshot brochure for patrons curious to learn more about the Library’s history during the 1920s and early 30s. You can check it out here: Decade1923_1932 or stop by Reference Services to pick up a copy.

After 43 Years in Darkness, the Post Office Mural Sees the Light

On Friday, February 22, an excited group of community organizers, city officials, historians, and donors met at the Library to witness the first official unveiling of George Melville Smith’s mural, “Indians Cede the Land.” As most patrons know by now, this 1940 artwork, originally installed in the Park Ridge Post Office that once stood on South Prospect, was rescued from demolition by local history teacher Paul Carlson and kept rolled up in storage for four decades. After Carlson’s death, his heirs donated the mural to the Library with the request that it be put on permanent display.

This was all easier said than done, as the photo below of the mural before its restoration attests. A great deal of credit needs to go to the Mural Restoration Committee, which included Dr. Anthony Borelli, Richard VanMetre, Jeff Caudill, Nancy Pytel, Patricia Lofthouse, Paul Adlaf, and John Murphy, who raised the entire amount needed for the restoration (some $38,000) through dedicated grassroots efforts.

This is how the mural looked when it came to Parma Conservation in Chicago for repairs:

mural saturday 02-23-13 BEFORE

If you haven’t had a chance to see how the mural looks now in its permanent home in the Library, we invite you to stop by soon. In the meantime, here are a few more photos of the mural’s installation and unveiling (a second public unveiling took place on Saturday, February 23), as well as several links for those interested in checking out local coverage of the event.

Unrolling the mural

Ironing the mural

Ironing the mural

The mural goes up.

The mural goes up.


The public dedication on Saturday.

The public dedication on Saturday.

For a great article by Jennifer Johnson of Pioneer Press on the dedication, click here.

Here’s another from the Chicago Tribune.

And, finally, here’s a nifty interview with Geoffrey Baer on Chicago Tonight.

February is Library Lover’s Month!

Stop by the Reference Department to check out our book display and to pick up a copy of the “Snapshot of 1913-1922” handout – a handy compendium of trivia on what the world was like during the Library’s first decade.

Did you know that “Danny Boy” was the greatest hit of 1913? (There are people who still swear it’s the greatest song ever.) That isn’t the only item from that period that’s still around today, for better or for worse – the decade also saw the emergence of Tinker Toys, Raggedy Ann dolls, and income tax.

Granted, some things are no longer the same – in 1913, millinery schools regularly advertised careers in hat-making, and at least one savvy entrepreneur created an Electronic Horse Trainer that “absolutely does away with the use of a whip.”

We’ll have a new “Snapshot” every month for a new decade from the Library’s past. Each will include lists of popular books and music, significant events, reproductions of advertisements, and more.

Check the first one out here!

A Century of Children at the Library

Young readersPerhaps no other area of the Library reveals more about its growth in the community than children’s services.

To get a full sense of that, it’s worth pointing out that a mere 20 years before the Park Ridge Library first opened, more than 70% of public libraries barred young children from entering, in the belief that they had no place in such a “serious” environment. Yet by 1908, circulation of materials to children accounted for nearly one-third of all library lending. What changed the public’s mind?

Part of the answer can certainly be found in the waves of immigrants who flocked to America in the 1890s. The library became a haven for these people (often providing English lessons to those who needed it), and by extension for their children, who had few other places to go.

Libraries found that one of the best ways to introduce immigrant children to the English language was through storytelling. The modern “storytime” probably had its origins in these sessions, where children from Germany, Poland, Italy, Scandinavia, and other areas listened to a storyteller reading American books while acting out scenes with familiar gestures and expressions. The language might be strange, but many of the storylines were universal, and the children picked up new vocabulary words quickly.

Collections devoted to young readers grew in an effort to encourage reading and prepare children better for school. In the Park Ridge Library’s annual report of 1914, the volume of children’s materials withdrawn was slightly less than that of the adults. Yet in less than a decade, that number would more than quadruple (nearly 18,000 juvenile books were withdrawn as opposed to 16,000 adult volumes).

Libraries then, as now, grew out of the belief that they could provide the tools to ensure a literate and informed community. Children became a primary focus. In 1924, when a young woman named Elizabeth Collom came to the Library to assist Frances Holbrook, she helped create the first summer reading program for local children. Called “the Vacation Reading Club,” its purpose was to encourage learning and provide young residents with a little more structure during the summer months – something their harried parents no doubt appreciated.

Elizabeth Collom 1

During WWII the Vacation Reading Club became the Victory Reading Club, with children being encouraged to become members of make-believe United States Army, Navy, or Marine Corps. In this case, the reading clubs went beyond their original goals.

According to a local newspaper account from the period, children read avidly about the war. “The boys and girls not only read the Children’s Room stock of war books, but go upstairs for more,” the reporter noted, adding that another children’s librarian, a Miss Jacob, was very supportive of their interest.

“They’re living through (the war), and they might as well know what’s going on,” she said.

Some interesting anecdotes come out of the Victory Reading Club. While participants needed to read seven books in order to “make rank,” they could advance to the ranks of general and admiral by reading more. A pair of enterprising little girls read so much, they suggested they should each be given the title of Commander-in-Chief!

The WWII period also saw some interesting adaptations in the storytimes. One year, the librarians focused exclusively on folklore from Allied countries, which gave young patrons some insight into how families in the war areas lived.

These days the Park Ridge Public Library has taken the idea of an international approach even further, by offering storytimes to English-speaking children in languages as diverse as Italian, Mandarin, and German. These programs have been enormously popular despite the fact that few of the children understand a word of the spoken language. What draws them is the energy of the storyteller, the familiar gestures, the acting-out of scenes.

In a sense the Library has come full circle, from teaching immigrant children about America to showing local children the world at large, all through the universal power of stories.

A Call for Photos, Yearbooks, and Other Memorabilia

The Library is always interested in acquiring historical photos and other documents, as well as books (rare and otherwise) with a connection to Park Ridge, for its Heritage Room collection. Do you have an old photo or other artifact, especially something related to the Library, that you would consider donating?

We are particularly interested in acquiring high school yearbooks to round out the current set in the Heritage Room. Below is a list of volumes that are either missing or have damaged pages (and might be replaced or supplemented with better copies):

Missing volumes include:

Maine South (Eyrie) 1971
Maine East (Lens) 1943, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1961, 1968

Damaged volumes include:

Maine East (Lens) 1975
Maine South (Eyrie) 1974, 1975, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983

For more information, please contact Reference Librarian Amber Ensign at (847)720-3233.

The Library would like to thank Judy Sindt for her recent donation of an 1873 edition of A Dictionary of the German and English Languages by G. J. Adler, which was originally owned by George B. Carpenter.