Operation Alert

In the 1950s, the US was in the tensest time of the Cold War. This new type of war brought a new variety of fears due to the weapons of mass destruction that were available. The most infamous being the atomic bomb. Civilian defense organizations were set up at the state and national level. Many towns were strongly encouraged to form their own in 1951. The McHenry Civilian Defense Board, which was headed by mayor George Freund, was broken down into three departments: Fire & Rescue, Law & Order, and Relief. The purpose of the board was to be prepared for any situation or attack that might be brought upon the city or assist a neighboring city if they were attacked.  

Study City Chart - 23 Apr 1959
Civic Leaders of McHenry & Skokie Go Over Plans In April 1959 Edition of the McHenry Plaindealer.

Operation Alert was introduced in 1954, calling for cities all over the country to take part in drills to make sure their community was ready if a possible attack were to take place. Despite being scheduled, all of the drills were to be conducted as if they were real threats, not only by the administrators but the citizenry as well. Citizens were given the loose time between 10am and noon, to add some surprise when the drill actually occurred. The drill started with blasts from the city’s sirens and would last intermittently for fifteen minutes. Members of the McHenry VFW acted as an auxiliary police force, offering direction and information for the people. Schools went on lockdown and fire departments responded to areas that were “attacked.” Main thoroughfares were kept open so that traffic wouldn’t bog down, but the remainder of the public was asked to stay indoors.

testing communications - 4 May 1961
Mayor Doherty & Chief Grobel testing communications outside of a tent at VFW in May 1961 Plaindealer.

In 1956, McHenry began to work with the city of Skokie in a drill that would be held annually for about five years. Skokie is about 12 miles from Chicago and if it were attacked, Skokie could find itself vulnerable to a fallout. While the evacuation of the citizenry of a town was the last resort, if necessary, the people of Skokie were encouraged to travel to McHenry. In July of 1957, McHenry Police Chief Joseph Grobel, Mayor George Freund and civic leaders of Skokie setup a drill. A caravan of about 200 Skokites left town in an organized manner and make their way up to McHenry. They were greeted at the VFW where everyone enjoyed a luncheon.

Picture from the McHenry VFW Post Dedication in 1948 from 27 May Plaindealer.


The mock evacuations would continue for the next five years stopping around 1962 and always reported to be executed rather well. Thankfully, the evacuations were never necessary, but now they give us a glimpse and one of the tensest times in our nation’s history as well as McHenry’s history.


“City To Welcome Skokie Evacuees.” McHenry Plaindealer 28 Apr 1960: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Operation Alert In City Friday Fine Success.” McHenry Plaindealer 23 Apr 1959: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Study City Chart.” McHenry Plaindealer 23 Apr 1959: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Alert Proves Exciting For Entire City.” McHenry Plaindealer 2 Nov 1961: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Civil Defense Alert In City.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jul 1956: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Explain Civil Defense Plan For This Area.” McHenry Plaindealer 21 Sep 1961: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“List Committees On Local Civil Defense Board.” McHenry Plaindealer 28 Jun 1951: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Observe Operation Alert In McHenry.” McHenry Plaindealer 10 Jul 1957: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Operation Alert Observed By Local Civil Defense.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Jul 1957: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Successful Alert Program Brought To Conclusion Sunday.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 May 1961: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Alert America.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 May 1952: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.
“Civil Evacuation To Be Last Resort.” McHenry Plaindealer 5 Apr 1951: 6. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Jan 2018.


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.


“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.

The Masquerade Ball of February 1878

In August of 1919, a local resident named “Buff” Feltz stopped by the McHenry Plaindealer office with an old dance program he found in walls of a Crystal Lake house he helped raze. Plaindealer editor, F. G. Schreiner found the program interesting and posted the details of the dance thinking that some of the “old-timers” might enjoy it too.

The dance was held on Friday, February 8, 1878, at the Riverside Hotel in McHenry. At that time, the Riverside was famous in the area for its dances, or in the case of the event on the 8th, masquerade balls. People came from places such as Woodstock, Richmond, and even Chicago to attend these events. Local businesses offered a variety of masks for these dances. P.D. Smith (whose store was near the train depot) and Smith, Aldrich & Haythorn’s (located on Riverside Drive) were just a couple of the businesses to offer these products.

Capture 2
Advertisement for the Ball appearing in the Feb 6, 1878,  McHenry Plaindealer.

The band for the evening was a six-piece group from Lake Geneva called the Rogers and Gillett’s Band of Geneva Lake. It cost $2 to dance and that would also pay for your supper. For 25¢, you could walk in and mingle with other guests. As with other masquerade balls, most participants wore masks or were in costume. The first and last dances were the only two dances, in particular, that were “mask only” and the final dance featured an “unmasking”.

It turns out that the weather for the Feb 8th ball was terrible and the roads were very difficult to travel “with a team or on foot”. That being said, it was reported that the masquerade ball actually had a respectable attendance. Those who were able to make it had a great time. The music was well received, the food “gave entire satisfaction”, and many of the costumes were festive. Two costumes that stood out were a person who was dressed as the McHenry Plaindealer and another wearing flour sacks representing Hanley’s Mill. 

Certainly, Schreiner’s article gave anyone who was at the ball a trip down memory lane. For others, it shared a piece of McHenry’s colorful history.

Riverside House
Postcard of the Riverside Hotel (or House) taken in the 1910s.


“Unearths Old Relic.” McHenry Plaindealer 14 Aug. 1919: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“Preparations for the Masquerade.” McHenry Plaindealer 23 Jan. 1878: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 23 May 2017.
“Friday Evening’s Masquerade Ball.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“Costumes.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“The Masquerade.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Feb. 1878: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“A Very Fine Assortment of Masks.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“Advertisement.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Aug 2016.


Red Faber Pitches in McHenry

In the summer of 1935 St. Mary’s softball charity game proved to be a memorable one. It pitted teams from the McHenry Elderly Men and St. Mary’s Holy Name Society and featured a bonus game that between the Married Men vs. the Single Men.  People were really looking forward to the game as it featured Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Red Faber. Faber spent over twenty years pitching for the White Sox and was a crucial part of the 1917 World Series team. The recently retired Faber owned a home in Pistakee Bay and was in town for the summer.
Red Faber
Photograph of Red Faber taken in 1917, from the Library or Congress.
The umpire was a famous wrestler of the time, Charles Peterson. Like Faber, Peterson was in town as he owned a vacation home in Pistakee Bay. It was thought that the event was to be so well attended that extra stands were built just for the game. The game did not disappoint as over 500 people were in attendance. Faber, who won 250 games in the major leagues, won 12 to 10 against the team led by St. Mary’s Msgr. Charles S. Nix. In the second game, the single men won against the married men, 9-8. Faber and Johnson weren’t the only big names playing in the game. Some names that played are still known in town today. Freund, Miller, Justen and Altoff just to name a few.

“Red Faber To Pitch” McHenry Plaindealer 25 Jul. 1935: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Mar 2016.
“Red Faber Now A Local Resident” McHenry Plaindealer 1 Aug. 1935: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Mar 2016.


McHenry’s Dollar Days

During most of the 20th Century, McHenry had a semi-annual event called Dollar Day. Eventually, in the 1950s as the event became more popular,  Dollar Days that was held most often over a two day period. The concept was relativity simple. Businesses in town would offer items at a $1 or offer drastically reduced prices on items. Dollar Days started in the 1920s and ran approximately bi-annually into the 1980s. They event had anywhere from 25 to 60 businesses involved on any given year.
Dollar Day - Feb 18, 1926
Dollar Day promotion from February 1926.
There were two main reasons for the push for this type of event. First, even in the 1920s and 30s people could see the importance of shopping locally. It helped build the community and strengthen the local economy. Secondly, it gave store owners the chance to promote new items, unload merchandise that wasn’t selling or clothing that was soon going to be out of season. This was a very useful way to unload clothing you didn’t want to store over the off-season.
Dollar Day Bargains - Jan 20, 1921
Dollar Day advertisement for McGee & Conway that ran in January 1921.
There were a variety of items that were offered. Everything from clothing, tools, hairdryers, subscriptions to the McHenry Plaindealer, specials on food at local restaurants and even DDT bombs for pest control. Many of McHenry’s longtime businesses participated such as Thomas Bolger’s Pharmacy, Ace Hardware, Hornsby’s and the National Tea Company just to name a few.
Overall the events were generally very successful in attracting hundreds of shoppers. Dollar Days were usually sponsored by the McHenry Chamber of Commerce. The local newspaper, the McHenry Plaindealer, also advertised heavily, often having full paged ads. It was through the paper and the mail, that flyers for the event could be circulated.
Dollar Day Ad - March 14, 1935
Dollar Day ad from March 1935.


“City Merchants Are Offering Fine Values.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 16 Feb. 1956: 1.
“Extraordinary Values Offered In City Stores.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 20 Aug. 1953: 1.
“Local Stores Offer Numerous Special Sales.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 7 Feb. 1957: 1.
“McHenry Dollar Day Successful.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 28 Mar. 1935: 1.
“Merchants Offer Good Bargains.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 21 Mar. 1935: 1.
“Outstanding Values Offered By Businessmen.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Aug. 1963: 1,8.
“Twenty-Six Merchants To Offer Values.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Feb. 1962: 1.
“36 Stores Hold Dollar Days.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 21 Jan. 1976: 1.



The McHenry’s Historic Election of 1914

In the spring of 1914, the village of McHenry held their elections to vote for their public officials and on some key issues of the day, such as if they should abolish the poll tax. Yet, the biggest issue to many was whether or not the village of McHenry should abolish their saloons. However, the vote in the spring caucus was expected to be a big one as the offices of the village clerk, assessor and collector were up for election. What really made race for collector interesting was that one of the candidates was a woman.
Dunne Signing Suggrage Bill - July 14 1914 p
Governor Dunne Signing Women’s Suffrage Bill in June 1913. Appeared in July 5, 1913 addition of McHenry Plaindealer.
On June 28, 1913 Illinois Governor Edward Dunne signed a bill into law that gave women of the state the right to vote in presidential and local elections, as well as run for local office. Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi that gave women these rights. (The 19th amendment giving women the right to vote on a national level wouldn’t be passed until 1920.) There were many who weren’t so sure that women should vote or hold office, let alone there were still those who flat out opposed women’s suffrage.  Needless to say, in 1914 election people were very interested to see how this law would affect McHenry’s elections and politics.
Running in the primary for village collector, Mrs. Mayme Harrison was the first woman to make a run for political office in the township. It was noted that she worked hard to drum up the vote and people thought she could get enough women to back her to get the nomination. Her opponent, incumbent collector, John Neison, was well respected and held the office for many years. It’s hard to say how much of a chance that Mayme Harrison had, facing a tough, experienced opponent and the negative perception many had of women in politics. In the end John Neison held on to his seat with a solid win in the village primary: 447-272.
Harrison For Collector - March 19 1914 p
Mayme Harrison’s letter of intent in the March 19, 1914 Plaindealer.
Before the caucus that was held in March 1914, there were directions for completing the ballot, clarifying how votes were to be made (for the new voters). The box in-front of the candidates name was to have an “X” put through it. If the candidate was a write-in then the name was to be written legibly. If either of these items were ignored, then the vote would be thrown out. This actually was a problem and elections that were close could be affected by invalid ballots.
In the first election women could vote in, the caucus of 1914 had a large turn out of over 700 people voting. Of those, 268 were women and it should be noted that not one ballot needed to be thrown out. Women voters were shown respect with the right to vote, as it was understood that they now had their own form of political power. They were applauded for doing their civic and patriotic duty. In the case of Mayme Harrison, she was able to perform well against an established and well liked politician in the very first election that she could run for office. (She also had 3 write-in votes during April’s general election.)
Wet Vs Dry Leveled
Pro-Wet Political cartoon appearing in April 2, 1914 Plaindealer.
In the general election held in April 1914, the biggest issue to many was whether or not McHenry would close its saloons and become a “dry” town. It soon became evident with women being able to vote, there would be another demographic of voters to court. In regards to the saloon vote in April, women were seen as the critical group of voters that could swing the election one way or the other. They became the focus of “wet” and “drys” trying to get their vote. Women were given many examples of the evils that drinking caused and were urged to vote the town dry.  On April 7, 1914, McHenry voted to keep its saloons by a slim 171 votes and joined only one of five townships that remained wet. Interestingly the vote among the women was very close with a difference of 21 votes. 189 women voted to go dry and 168 voted to remain wet.
“Big Turnout at Caucus.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 26 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Caucus Next Saturday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Comparatively Small Vote Cast.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 23 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Dunn Signs Suffrage Bill.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 5 Jul. 1913: 1.
“Poll Tax Must Be Voted On.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 12 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Village Election April 21.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 9 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Vote Yes Next Tuesday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 2 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Wets Win By 54 Votes.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 9 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Women Do Your Duty!” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 5 Mar. 1914: 1.