Experience history firsthand
Graue Mill, Cantigny Park, Kline Creek Farm give visitors a glimpse of the past
Last updated 8/13/2019 at 9:25am | View PDF
History is all Cicero says it is.
It also can be dry, boring and seemingly irrelevant to all but its most avid students.
That's where living history comes in. Programs that allow folks to witness a Revolutionary War battle, feel what it was like to be a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad or experience the workings of an 18th-century farm can spark an interest in history like no textbook can.
And Hinsdaleans don't have to travel far to see history brought to life. Graue Mill, Cantigny Park and Kline Creek Farm all offer programs that provide a glimpse into days gone by.
Journey to freedom
The mill that Frederick Graue opened in 1852 in what was then Fullersburg did more than grind wheat, corn and other grains produced by local farmers. The mill was used to hide runaway slaves on their journey to freedom in Canada.
Each year Graue Mill hosts a special Journey on the Underground Railroad program so adults and children can experience what it was like to be a slave hoping to escape to freedom. The theatrical experience, slated for Aug 23 and 24 (see sidebar) begins with a skit in which passengers meet the legendary Harriet Tubman and hear slaves sing songs they might have known in the 19th century.
"Then the whole group goes outside and sees where the slaves might have come into the mill to be protected," said Jana Dorn, a hostess at the mill.
Attendees will learn what signals the Graues might have used to let slaves know whether it was safe to arrive and the penalties the Graues and the runaways they helped might face if caught.
Children are welcome to attend the program, although it might be too frightening for those who are quite young, said Cathy Kolessar, director of operations. But some younger audience members are quite attentive, Dorn said.
"A lot of the interest comes from the kids studying this in their school program and they get interested and want a little more connection," she said.
Fighting for independence
The two-day Revolutionary War Reenactment and Grande Encampment at Cantigny Park Sept. 7 and 8 gives visitors the chance to learn about the soldiers who fought in the war and what life was like for them and their families in the 18th century.
Among those on hand will be Ron Feldman, commander of Hamilton's Artillery, the host unit for the event.
Members of his unit will show visitors how the cannon is fired and maintained and talk about the unit's history, including its namesake, Alexander Hamilton.
Re-enactors will hold a mock battle on the parade field each day as well.
"They will also put on a display of horsemanship and how horses are rode into battle and how a soldier would fight off of a horse," Feldman said. "That is usually quite interesting."
The Grande Encampment, which is held once every three or four years, will bring in 500 to 800 re-enactors from Illinois and several other states.
Some will teach visitors about 18th century clothing or cooking while others will offer blacksmithing or silversmithing demonstrations. Kids can play with the toys children entertained themselves with before tablets or smartphones existed.
Feldman is looking forward to sharing his passion for the American Revolution with visitors.
"I've always had a love of history since I was a little kid," he said.
Life on the farm
At Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago, visitors can learn how a farm operated in the late 19th century. Many are not familiar with farm operations in any century, said Keith McClow, heritage education manager.
"Kline Creek Farm is one of the only places you can see agriculture in DuPage County," he said. "Most of our residents here have very little connection with farms any more."
Activities at the farm are based on the time of year. "We just finished cleaning out our ice house," he said. "We cut ice in January and we store it for use in the summer."
In these final weeks of summer, programs are focused on how things were powered in the 1890s (see sidebar). Next month the focus will be on food, including honey, corn, cornbread, butter and apple cider.
"People can sign up and take a tour and learn about these foods - and then get a taste of the things that are produced," McClow said.
Holiday celebrations are followed by ice cutting in the winter, the birth of lambs in February and calves in March and then sheep shearing in April. Hands-on activities for kids are often part of the program.
"You would be amazed at how much they would enjoy it," McClow said. "We live so digitally. You can come here and actually get your hands dirty and make something."
The farm is worth a visit even if a specific program is not taking place, McClow said.
"We are always working," he said. "We have advertised certain things, dates and times, but you can come here any time and experience farm life."