In The News

Looking Back: ‘Journey stories’: An expose on how we got where we are

This article originally appeared in the Freeport Journal Standard

By Harriett Gustason

Freeport, Ill. — During coming weeks, folks from this area will be offered many opportunities of viewing close up, the dramatic history of the migrations which have shaped America.

 The evolving stages of our country’s migrations and its ethnic and industrial development will be illustrated for the public through two public exhibits and a lecture series. A roster of programs, speeches, drama, exhibits, covering American settlement and movement is being offered the public.

 The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has created the traveling exhibition on the history of the movement of the people throughout our nation’s history. The exhibit, titled “Journey Stories,” is to be displayed at Freeport Public Library from Jan. 5 through Feb. 16. The library and the Stephenson County Museum have jointly brought the exhibit here. O’Mara Moving and Storage is corporate sponsor for the event.

 At the Museum
 Simultaneously, the Stephenson County Historical Museum will be host to a related exhibit featuring the theme, “Stephenson County Journey Stories: The Railroads.” These events will feature three aspects of how the railroads influenced the history of Stephenson County. The themes of these are “The Orphan Trains in the 1870s in Lena,” “The Migration of African Americans to Freeport via the Illinois Central Railroad,”  and “The Service Men’s Snack Bar during World War II.” These three features each illustrate a dramatic episode in local history.

 The presentation of “The Service Men’s Snack Bar: Freeport’s Effort During World War II” will be a reading theater presentation at 7 p.m. on Jan. 26 and 2 p.m. Jan. 27 at Freeport’s Winneshiek Theatre. Dr. Edward Finch, executive director of the Stephenson County Museum, wrote the play. It depicts the all-out effort of the women of Freeport serving refreshments to the servicemen and women traveling through Freeport on troop trains during World War II. Many merchants and organizations also pitched in with donations for the effort. The project received wide publicity through the appreciation of the thousands of troops who passed through the city during that time receiving sandwiches and coffee from the dedicated volunteers.

 The ‘Journeys’ Began 
 Beginning with the Congress of the United States, a nationwide effort to preserve and make known the  profound migratory aspect of our country’s history has been brought forth and is now being passed on to us here in northern Illinois.

 Factions which have made this possible include: The Smithsonian Institution, with funding; the Federation of State Humanities Council, creation of the exhibit; Illinois Humanities Council, funding of the local exhibit; and hosts Freeport Public Library and Stephenson County Museum. O’Mara Moving & Storage has been a corporate sponsor for the visiting exhibit.

Freeport’s “One Book/One Freeport” readers’ club is also coordinating its 2013 program with a  “Journeys” theme. Freeport Shakespeare Society is another literary society using “Journeys” as its 2012-2013 study theme, branching out into both fiction and non-fiction literature.

 Public Programs Schedule
 The first of the two local journeys lectures will be on Jan. 14 with Clark Kidder telling of the experiences of his grandmother who was brought to the Midwest aboard an orphan train. That presentation will be at 7 p.m. at Freeport Public Library. On Jan. 22, also at the library, Joyce Salter Johnson will discuss the experiences of African Americans who came to Stephenson County by way of the Illinois Central Railroad.

 The annual lecture series jointly sponsored by the Stephenson County Historical Society and Freeport Public Library Foundation will begin on Feb. 7 with a presentation by Sherry Finch Cluver on “US Immigration via International Adoption: A Case Study.” On Feb. 13, Dr. Andrew Dvorak of the Highland Community College faculty will present “European Immigration or European Invasion? Cultural Perspectives on the Transformation of the Americas, 1492-1890.” On Feb. 26, Wendell Kurr will present “the Ostfriesen Immigration to Stephenson County.” March 4, James Winker, Freeport High School  history instructor, will speak on “Public Sentiments Toward Recent German Immigrants to the U.S. during World War II.”

The final lecture will be March 13 by Dr. Martin Quirk on “Old City/New City Immigrants to Boston in the 19th Century.”

Other events will include “Jane Addams:  A First Person Interpretation,” by Amy Nyman at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at Freeport Public Library, and from 4 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 16 there will be an “Empty Bowl” reception and closing of the “Journey Stories” exhibit with a performance by folk singer, Kendra Beth Swanson. For this there will be a free-will offering or canned goods contribution for the Freeport Area Church Cooperative.

 Lined up for Feb. 20 is a lecture by Chuck Voigt at 7 p.m. titled “Heirloom Gardening & Seed Saving.”

From March 1, 2013, to June 1, 2013, Freeport Art Museum will feature “Depression Era Paintings” done by Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers.

 Classic Film Series
 The 2013 “Winter-Spring Classic Film Series,” a cooperative project of Highland Community College, Stephenson County Historical Society and Classic Cinemas’ Lindo Theatre, will feature “the realm of the wild imaginings that followed the development and testing of atomic weapons as depicted in the 1950’s science fiction.” Admission for each of the classic films is $5 with a season ticket price of $20 for five films.

 Harriett Gustason is a columnist for The Journal-Standard. She can be reached at (815) 235-3855 or