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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
The drive-in theater was one of the iconic crazes of the 1950s. While the first drive-in was actually in Camden, New Jersey in 1933, the popularity of the drive-in didn’t take off until the 1950s. Drive-ins offered some things that their indoor counterparts didn’t. Overall, the atmosphere befitted its casual summertime setting. At a drive-in, you could bring a baby, smoke, dress more casually, and be much louder as the speakers hooked right up to your car.
McHenry didn’t get passed up in this popular trend. In July 1951, McHenry got its first drive-in theater, the Skyline. Owned by Roy Miller, the screen was listed as facing northwest, as opposed to now as it faces southeast. The Skyline was in the same location that the McHenry Outdoor is at today. The screen was 52’ x 70’ and was the only outdoor theater in the vicinity. It also had illuminated speaker posts and a refreshment stand. The illuminated speaker posts didn’t just offer the audio from the movie, but also served as a guide telling customers where to park. The snack bar offered BBQ burgers and pizza among other refreshments. By 1956, the Skyline had a 104’ long screen and was showing two movies nightly. In 1963, Roy Miller sold the Skyline to Stan Kohlberg of Chicago. At that time, Mr. Kohlberg owned eight other theaters and had three more under construction.
While McHenry’s outdoor theater still stands, most weren’t so lucky. One big advantage indoor theaters had was profit. Indoor theaters weren’t dependent on the season or weather, therefore, they could play movies more frequently, thus make more money for movie studios. In the late 1950s there were about 4000 drive-ins, today there are about 400. Apparently, most drive-ins were “mom and pop” businesses that didn’t have people who wanted to take over the business when operators retired. Yet the McHenry Outdoor still stands today as a nostalgic glimpse of Americana.
*This article was inspired by the sign in the picture at the top taken last summer (2016). Sadly it seems to have been blown down this spring.
“McHenry Will Have Drive-In Theater Soon.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Jul. 1950: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“Drive-In Theater Announces Official Opening on July 20.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jul. 1951: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“Skyline Drive-In Advertisement.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jul. 1956: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“New Theater Owner.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Jul. 1963: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
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.
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.
The Everett Hunter Manufacturing Company was a staple in McHenry for many years. Everett Hunter’s boat making business started in 1889 when he immigrated to the US from England. In 1919, business was booming and it was decided that they would expand into producing phonographs as well. What put phonographs on the map was that they were designed with two needles, one for recording and one for playing music. This looked like a great industry for the Hunter Company to invest in.
In March 1919, the Everett Phonograph was introduced to the public. The Everett sold so well that the Hunter Company put out ads looking for workers to help construct them. Phonographs were interesting to make, as they required the mechanical components that made or recorded sound. However, these components were housed in attached cabinets to make them more attractive for people to have in their homes.
During the first ten months of production, the Everett was sold out of the warehouse at the Hunter Manufacturing Company. However, with business doing so well, the Everett Music Store was opened in January 1920. Located on Green Street, it was run by Everett Hunter Jr. This also opened the door for the business to sell other musical merchandise, mainly records. The music business took off. Sometime in 1921, the Hunter Manufacturing Company stopped making the Everett Phonograph and became a dealer for Brunswick Phonographs and merchandise. In 1922, the Everett Music Store expanded it’s location in McHenry and branched out, opening a store in Woodstock. The success was short-lived however, and by 1924 the Everett Music store was bought out by the Nye Music Store. Yet, for a short moment in history, McHenry had its own manufacturer of phonographs represented by the Everett Hunter Company.
Baseball was a small town’s game and many towns featured semi-professional clubs during the 1900’s. McHenry was no exception. The baseball team the McHenry Blues started in 1905 and played through 1909. The town was also home to the McHenry Shamrocks who played from the early 1930s until the mid-1960s.
Semi-Pro baseball was similar to today’s minor league baseball in that many players were hoping to make it to a professional team. Players back then didn’t make a lot of money and probably had a second job, but playing with the local team kept the dream of playing professionally alive. For the fans, it was great entertainment. This era of baseball was also known as “townball”, due to the fact that most teams were financed by a local business or businesses. Sometimes other events were arranged the same day as the ballgame, such a dance or fundraiser.
On April 28, the Blues opened the season with 13-0 win over the Pekin Giants of Chicago. It took twelve innings to beat the Elgin Tigers 9-8. The following week was another blowout again with the Blues winning 12-2 against the Rock Island Athletics. The Blues even beat the Elgin Code of Honor team in June and the Waukegan city All-Stars in August. Overall , the Blues did very well for themselves. However, they had one huge problem.
Even back then, baseball ran off of ticket sales. In the early 1900s the cost of attending a game was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children . If your attendance was too low, your team wouldn’t be able to make any money. Even worse, if they did too poorly they might not be able to pay their players and would have to cut their season short. That is exactly what happened to the Blues in 1907 when their poor ticket sales caused them to cancel the last eight games on their schedule. Again, this wasn’t due to poor performance, as they only lost one of their games. Sadly, this would happen to the team again in 1908, although the 1908 club wasn’t as good as its predecessor. Poor attendance seemed to affect many of the other local teams as well, which led to some to question as to whether the game was dying out. McHenry didn’t really have a baseball team with any continued success until the McHenry Shamrocks formed in the 1930s.
Please stay tuned for further historical updates on the famous McHenry Shamrocks baseball team appearing here in our local history blog in the Spring.
During the early part of the 20th century, McHenry was a booming tourist destination. People from Chicago and the surrounding areas would flock to McHenry to enjoy Pistakee Lake and Bay, the Fox River and other relaxing attractions. Realizing the economic opportunity, McHenry welcomed the tourists having already established resorts and hotels in the area. McHenry also offered various forms of entertainment such as dancing at the Riverside Hotel/Hall.
The city-fathers realized early on that adding a ground-floor indoor facility that could house a sport, fair, convention or large indoor gatherings could greatly benefit the city’s economy. This large facility could host events and be a magnet to gather the tourists and local people alike. This was an idea that took shape over time. It appears to have first been mentioned around 1909. However, it really seemed to take on steam in 1912. On February 22, 1912 the McHenry newspaper, the Plaindealer, posted a picture of the proposed coliseum. The plan was described as having steam heating, electricity and bathrooms with indoor plumbing. An earlier account noted that the building would be built from cement blocks and constructed in a semicircular pattern to limit posts and beams obstructing spectators’ views. It would be used to entertain vacationers in the summer and offer new opportunities to the citizens of McHenry in colder weather.
There were a couple of places mentioned for the location of the coliseum’s construction. One location was the “center of town” and the other was Water Street (now Riverside Drive). The idea was that the people of the city would invest in the project by purchasing shares so the coliseum would be literally for the people of McHenry. One document mentioned about 100 people were willing to invest int the project. In February,1912, an article stated that 3/4 of the funds had been raised and that the construction was all but a certainty. However, the construction never came to be. How close the project came to fruition or why it didn’t materialize is hard to say. In August,1912, the McHenryPlaindealer newspaper mentions that the idea of a coliseum wasn’t dead and that some citizens wanted to continue with the project. However, there is no further mention of a coliseum anywhere in any McHenry historical documents. It’s interesting to imagine what a building like this could have meant for McHenry’s growth.