Captain Andy’s Parasail on the Mississippi

Captain Andy’s Parasail on the Mississippi

Temperatures were still warm, but autumn winds were beginning to blow. In many Midwest cities mid-October is late for parasailing. However, in Grafton, Illinois, 15 miles upriver from Alton, warmer weather hangs on a little longer. So when on my October visit I had the chance to go on the only parasailing adventure on the Mississippi River with Captain Andy’s Parasail, of course, I accepted. Read more

DeMoulin Museum, Greenville IL: Quirky and Shocking

DeMoulin Museum, Greenville IL: Quirky and Shocking

The world’s largest maker of band uniforms and choir robes didn’t start out in the garment business. The business was quite different in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Back then they made initiation devices for fraternal organizations, devices like a phone that sprayed water in the face of the user, a strength tester that paddled one’s bottom, and a trick chair that collapsed when sat in. Today you can see, and maybe become a victim of, some of these quirky and sometimes shocking devices at the DeMoulin Museum in Greenville, Illinois.

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Ed DeMoulin happened to be in the right place at the right time. A photographer in Greenville, Illinois, in the 1890s, DeMoulin liked to tinker with gadgets. William Northcott, another Greenville resident, was Head Consul of the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal organization. Looking for ways to increase membership in the MWA, Northcott approached DeMoulin for suggestions on making the fraternal organization more fun. DeMoulin, together with his two brothers, came up with the idea of the initiation devices, which they began producing.

Band uniformsThe DeMoulins’ thirty patented devices were popular with fraternal organizations throughout America and were used until around 1930. The company continued to make furniture and fraternal regalia after that and eventually evolved into band uniforms. You’ll see some of those items in the museum, too, but the fun is in the initiation devices. John Goldsmith, curator of the museum, demonstrated some of the devices for us on our visit.

The spanker was one of the earlier inventions. The blindfolded fraternal candidate was swatted with the padded side of the spanker. When struck, a blank cartridge would go off, creating a loud noise.

Paddle

“Riding a goat” was a popular initiation, and they ranged from being pulled around on a stuffed goat until eventually falling off to being strapped onto the Ferris Wheel Goat and being rolled head over heels.

Goat 2

Ferris Wheel Goat

As a candidate, you might be told you needed to be branded. Blindfolded (a common thread among most initiations), your arm would be touched with the “branding iron,” giving you an electric shock.

Branding iron

The trick chair would collapse as you sat in it, give you a shock and set off a blank cartridge.

Collapsing chair 1

Collapsing chair 2

You could be asked to pull on the handles of the strength testing machine, some of which squirted water in your face, and some that whacked you in the behind with a paddle, again with the bang of a blank cartridge.

Lifting machine

Lifting machine 2

If you had the knife board initiation, you’d see someone ready to throw knives before you were blindfolded and strapped to the board. Fake knives would pop out of the board near you, making you think the knives were being thrown.

Knife board

John said the guillotine, which had safety mechanisms to stop short of touching the “victim” gets different reactions from adults and kids. Kids love it and want to lay in it for photo ops, whereas adults inch away from it.

guillotine

Norma Goldsmith, John’s late mother, was the inspiration for the not-for-profit museum. A long-time DeMoulin employee, Norma had her own collection of memorabilia, the start of the museum artifacts. The museum continues its search for items to add to the collection. John says it isn’t uncommon to get a call from someone across the country who happens to have a DeMoulin device or other memorabilia. In fact, David Copperfield, the illusionist is an avid collector of the initiation devices, often compares notes with John, and has demonstrated some of them on late-night talk shows.

The DeMoulin Museum has been featured on TV shows, too, which comes as no surprise. The quirky initiation devices are a fascinating piece of fraternal organization history and just plain fun.

The DeMoulin Museum, located along the historic National Road at 110 W Main in Greenville, Illinois, is open Friday through Sunday from March through October and on Saturdays November through February. Check the web site for hours. Admission is by donation. Plan to spend about an hour there.

Disclosure:  My visit to the DeMoulin Museum was hosted by The Tourism Bureau Illinois South and the DeMoulin Museum, but any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine. Accommodations were provided by Hampton Inn, Collinsville, Illinois.

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Wildlife Prairie Park: Where the Bison Roam

Wildlife Prairie Park: Where the Bison Roam

Who would think that just outside of Peoria, two-and-a-half miles off the Interstate in Hanna City, Illinois, a herd of bison roam the prairie? Described as a jewel in the Midwest, Wildlife Prairie Park is home to 150 animals of 50 species native to Illinois. Wildlife, ten miles of hiking trails through natural landscape, fishing ponds and a schedule of planned activities bring around 140,000 guests to the park each year. Read more

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, Greenville IL: Family Farm Saved by the Cheese

Marcoot Jersey Creamery, Greenville IL: Family Farm Saved by the Cheese

John Marcoot had planned to sell his dairy operation when he retired. The operation had been in the family for six generations. He didn’t want his daughters to struggle with lives on a small farm, as competition from mega farms was making it more difficult for small farm survival. If they were to continue the operation, they needed to do something different than to continue to sell their milk to the local dairy coop. Daughters Amy and Beth, who had already started other careers, wanted to continue the family legacy. However, they agreed with Dad that they needed to work it from another angle. They found that angle in making cheese and in agritourism. Marcoot Jersey Creamery was born. Read more

Museum of the Grand Prairie: Lincoln and Life in Central Illinois

Museum of the Grand Prairie: Lincoln and Life in Central Illinois

Abraham Lincoln is most often associated with Springfield, but he spent time in nine counties throughout Central Illinois as he traveled the 8th Judicial Circuit practicing law.  The Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet captures Lincoln’s travels through the area, as well as life on the prairie in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sit in a wagon much the same as Lincoln did.  The video in front of you gives the illusion that you are riding through the prairie.

Lincoln_buggy

Learn humorous stories about Lincoln, like the time he hid the meal gong from the American House proprietor because it would wake up Lincoln and the other lawyers who stayed there.

When Lincoln was having his photograph taken, he was wearing his travel clothes, which were inappropriate for a formal photograph.  The photographer, Samuel Alschuler, gave Lincoln his jacket to wear.  The sleeves came almost up to the elbows of tall Lincoln.

Photographer

See a replica of the Goose Pond Church where Lincoln spoke to a packed house, campaigning for John C. Fremont, the first Republican Party presidential nominee.

Church

Other exhibits in the museum include artifacts like the Mitchell Wagon, used to cart corn to the local elevator.

Mitchell_Wagon

The Chesebro Blacksmith shop that stood untouched from the 1930s until 1993 in Saunemin, Illinois, has been partially reconstructed with the contents in the exact place as they were originally.

Blacksmith_shop

Learn about typical families who lived in the area.  This intricate gate was at the home of the local blacksmith.

Gate

A temporary exhibit titled, “Home Grown: Gardening Yesterday and Today,” opened in March, begins with the cultivation ways of Native Americans, moves to 19th century orchards and pollinators, into the mid-20th century Victory Gardens and canning, and onto sustainable gardening techniques of today.

Gardens

The next time you’re traveling to or through Champaign County, make a little jog to visit the delightful Museum of the Grand Prairie.  The museum is located at 950 N Lombard, Mahomet, Illinois, in the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve.  Check the web site for hours and directions.  Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

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Other blog posts you may enjoy:

University of Illinois Museums: Complementary Themes

The Art Party Studio, Champaign IL: Discover Your Inner Artist

Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, Rantoul, Ill.

Big Grove Tavern

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