The McHenry Lyceum

During the early 1920s, Rev. Father Martin J. McEvoy of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church brought a series of concerts and other entertaining acts to McHenry in the form of a Lyceum. It combined education and entertainment in a variety of outlets such as lectures, concerts and a plethora of other performances. Lyceums took off in the early 19th century in New England starting what some have seen as the first adult learning program. Lyceums spread throughout the country and many times worked in circuits with performers who traveled around, much like a circus. Many of the performers were set up through Rev. McEvoy and the Dennis Lyceum Bureau and the Redpath Bureau.  

Arcadia Quartet
The Arcadia Novelty Quartet appearing in the Jan 21, 1926, Plaindealer.

In the spring of 1921, Father McEvoy set up four different performances for the town of McHenry. They were not religious in scope and were meant for the general public to attend. For the first three years, the acts took place at the Empire Theatre. (The Empire was at the location of the former McHenry Downtown Theatre.) Tickets were generally $1.50 but sometimes went up to $2 depending on the performer. Father McEvoy stressed that the Lyceums were not money makers, but a service to the community.  

Swiss Yodelers
Ad for Grobecker’s Swiss Yodelers from Nov 3, 1921, Plaindealer.

Many acts were vocal acts, such as the Arcadia Novelty Quartet and the Waldorf Male Quartet. Others were a mix of instrumental and vocal such as Mr. and Mrs. Glen Wells or Charles Cox & Co and even a Swiss Yodeling group. Most of the “mixed” acts tended to blend in humor or storytelling with the musical aspects of the performance. There was also Manlove: The Man of Many Faces, a comedic impressionist who left “many a wet eye” in the theater when he was done. There one act that seemed to stand out, the Jack Wood Quartet. The quartet featured multi-instrumentalists and singers, but the highlight was their bells. The bells were reportedly made by the same founders who cast the bells at St. Paul’s in London and was what the rest of the performance was based around. Many ads in the McHenry Plaindealer referred to them, not as the Jack Wood Quartet, but the Bellringers.

Charles Cox
From Feb 4, 1926 edition of the Plaindealer.

For the first three years, the Lyceum’s attendance faired well. They ended up moving over to the high school gymnasium for a larger venue. In its sixth season, the Lyceum was having a problem with lower attendance compared to previous years. Sadly, Father McEvoy passed away on February 1, 1926, after being struck with double pneumonia in the end of January. He was beloved by the entire community, not just his parishioners, and was only 46 at the time of his passing. Town businessmen pickup up the Lyceum programming and used the programs as a way to honor the memory of the late priest. Attendance seemed to pick up, but after the programs set up by Father McEvoy ran their course, the Lyceum wasn’t picked up again in McHenry.

Sources

“Bell Ringers At School Auditorium.” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Apr. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Bell Ringers to Entertain Here.” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Apr. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 14 Jul 2017.
“Betty Booth Concert Co.” McHenry Plaindealer  16 Apr. 1925: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 Jul 2017.
“Lyceum Coarse Ends April 13.” McHenry Plaindealer 1 Apr. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 14 Jul 2017.
“Lyceum Program To Be Given Tonight.” McHenry Plaindealer 11 Feb. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Manlove Here Monday Night.” McHenry Plaindealer  4 Jan. 1923: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 Jul 2017.
“McHenry Lyceum Course.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Sep. 1923: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Mr. & Mrs. Glen Wells.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Nov. 1923: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Popular Priest Dies Suddenly.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Feb. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“Second Lyceum Course Number.” McHenry Plaindealer  7 Jan. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 12  Jul 2017.
“Second Number, Lyceum Coarse, Monday Evening, January 18th.” McHenry Plaindealer 14 Jan. 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 Jul 2017.
“Second Number of Lyceum.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Nov. 1923: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.
“$10 In Gold For Best Review.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Sep. 1923: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 11 Jul 2017.

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