Our whole family attended, and I especially remember that the field and stage were illuminated by searchlights. This was a sight to remember.
There was a queen contest for all women, age 16-26, and other contests for the best old-fashioned dresses, suits, beards and mustaches. Also, people working in retail stores were judged on their turn-of-the-century apparel, and stores were judged as to which ones had the best historical displays in their windows and which ones had the most authentically dressed 19th-century mannequins.
Kids' Day was on Friday, and we enjoyed the pet parade, the costume parade and above all, the pie-eating contest. I didn't win, but I sure wolfed down the offerings, and I didn't even get sick. We also played games, had races and ate watermelon.
The main event was the historical pageant at the stadium. Oak Park was depicted at the time of Marquette and Joliet, the first settlement by the Kettlestrings, Civil War days, the first railroad, early schools, WWI, the 1920s, the Depression and WWII.
I remember the neighbor boy, John Dunne, and his partner danced the Charleston during the '20s segment of the pageant.
I really enjoyed the antique auto parade and the parade on Lake Street on the final day of the jubilee. There were so many floats, including the one entered by Grace Lutheran Church, which featured a small reproduction of the church at the very top of the float.
How did people pay for all of this fun? Well, the various stores, including the one-of-its-kind store named Bailey's*, sold wooden nickels to be used as legal tender for the various events. During the jubilee, it was not a problem to have too many wooden nickels.
I wish to thank Audra Conard of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest for providing me with information that helped me refresh my memories of this long ago event.
* Bailey's was located on the northwest corner of Marion and North Boulevard. It was probably the last saddle, tack and western clothing store in the area. The store truly sold everything but the horse. My mother bought denims for me at this place because the pants were made for horsemen/women, and they were practically indestructible.
Wiffle balls and Hula Hoops
When the neighborhood guys turned 13 and 14, it was no longer possible to play baseball in our backyards or even on the corner lot. We hit the ball too far and broke too many windows. I had so much experience replacing windows, I could have had a career as a glazier.
It was at this time that a guy from New England moved into our neighborhood and brought the game of Wiffle ball with him. He told us that it was a new game invented in Connecticut or Massachusetts.
This game was made for our backyards and the corner lot. It was a pitcher's game because the pitcher could throw great curves, sliders and knucklers and many batters would wiff (strike out). The wiffle bat was a broomstick handle. We played by baseball rules (nine innings, three outs) with 2-5 players on a team, but we did not run the bases. Singles, doubles, etc. were designated by markers, and hits were scored by how close the batted balls came to the markers. Usually the ball didn't travel too far because the ball was hard to hit, and a broomstick handle is not a Louisville Slugger. It wasn't too many years before a plastic bat replaced the broomstick handles, so balls were then hit further.
Now Wiffle Ball is an international sport with leagues and tournaments, but in the '50s, it was a great backyard sport.
The Hula Hoop may well have been the most popular toy of the '50s. The large plastic hoop was placed around one's head and wiggled to the waist. Kids (and some adults) were swinging the hoops around their hips like hula dancers. More skillful hoopsters spun them around their arms, legs and necks. Some even spun more than one hoop at a time, and these capable hoopsters entered the many contests held in Oak Park.
Was I a hoopster? Well, I tried to master this sport, but I was so thin that the hoop would slide off me quickly, and I just couldn't get the momentum to keep the hoop spinning. The hoop and I quickly parted company, and I went back to the bat and ball without considering any other diversions.
The hoop still has young fans, but other activities have replaced it in popularity.
John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children, and an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 68 years.