While perhaps now best known as an international distress signal, May Day’s origins as a festival to celebrate the coming of spring date back to as early as the 2nd century AD. From the Roman festival Floralia to the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night to the Celtic festival of Beltane, elements of modern-day May Day can be seen in the feasts, celebrations, and use of flowers as decorations and gifts that originated in those festivals. May Day is currently recognized as an official holiday in 66 countries, and has also been known as International Workers Day since the 19th century as a way of recognizing the 19th century labor movement for workers’ rights.
The most well-known May Day traditions, as observed in Europe and North America and featured in the third book of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy series, are the crowning of the May Queen, the giving of May baskets, and the dance around the maypole. May Day traditions have fallen out of fashions in the recent decades, but here at the IDHH, we’ve chosen to highlight some of these past May Day celebrations from Western Illinois University, Knox College, the North Suburban Library District, the Towanda District Library, and the University of St. Francis to show how May Day traditions used to be celebrated.
We are so excited to welcome the Des Plaines Public Library back to the IDHH! The Des Plaines Public Library has added five new collections to Des Plaines Memory: Life During COVID-19; On the Streets of Des Plaines, 1915; Life During Wartime; We Mean Business; and Sports & Recreation. Des Plaines Memory is an online archive of locally sourced photographs, documents, and memorabilia related to the City of Des Plaines, with contributions from the Des Plaines History Center, the Des Plaines Park District, and individuals in the community.
Although all of these collections are amazing, my favorite is On the Streets of Des Plaines, 1915. Contributed by the Des Plaines History Center, this is a stunning collection of candid photographs made from glass plate negatives that were taken in downtown Des Plaines, circa 1915, by an unidentified photographer. My favorite part about this collection is the lack of formally posed photographs. I feel like it gives us a valuable insight into what daily life actually looked like, rather than what a select few people wanted the world to believe it looked like.
Here are a few of our favorite images from the full On The Streets of Des Plaines, 1915 collection: